Champlin Park boys basketball is back in the Class 4A state meet after a 69-63 overtime thriller March 25 against third-seeded Park Center in the 5AAAA section final.
The top-ranked and top-seeded host Rebels (21-0 overall) had two close games against the Pirates in the regular season, as well, winning 81-78 on the road in overtime on Feb. 17 and 72-66 at home on March 11.
Champlin Park built a 16-point lead early in the second half and looked poised to run away from Park Center, but the Pirates fought back to take a four-point lead with six minutes to go.
Senior guard Adrian Mogaka drained a 3-pointer on a kick out by senior forward Francis Nwaokorie to get the Rebels back to within one.
Senior guard Josh Strong later knocked down a few free throws, and senior guard Robert Feahn was able to get a steal.
Nwaokorie later scored on an offensive putback, and senior guard Sylan Gichaba knocked down a shot. Nwaokorie then hit two free throws on a one-and-one to make it 63-58 Champlin Park with 17.8 seconds to go.
Park Center once again fought back, aided by a couple of missed free throws, and the game was tied at 63-63 headed into overtime.
Defense and free-throw shooting was on display in the extra four minutes, though. Gichaba and Strong hit two free throws, and Feahn and Mogaka each had one. And the Rebels shut out the Pirates in overtime to secure the state berth.
Strong had a monster first half with 20 of his 26 points.
Park Center went up 14-5 early, but a steal and a layup by Strong cut the deficit to 14-10.
Strong later hit a 3-pointer on a pass by Mogaka and added another on a pass by Nwaokorie to give Champlin Park a 19-17 lead.
Strong hit another shot from downtown to tie the game at 25-25, and he added a couple of free throws after a technical foul to give the Rebels a lead they wouldn’t lose until the second half.
Strong hit one more 3-pointer before halftime to make it 36-27.
Nwaokorie (12 rebounds, four assists) had 12 of his 16 points in the second half, and Mogaka (five assists, two rebounds) had six of 10 points. Gichaba finished with six points and six rebounds.
Champlin Park enters state undefeated for the third time since 2015. The Rebels lost to Apple Valley in the state final as the top seed in 2015, and they fell to Apple Valley again in the 2017 state final.
Apple Valley is not in this year’s state meet.
Champlin Park opened state March 31 in the state quarterfinal against Maple Grove after the Sun Post’s Monday deadline. The winner will take on the winner of Rosemount and Cretin-Derham Hall at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 8, at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
The other quarterfinal games were Wayzata vs. Duluth East and Owatonna vs. Shakopee.
The state final is at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 10, at the Target Center.
Champlin Park 54, Osseo 42
The Rebels trailed by 10 points at halftime before coming back to defeat fifth-seeded Osseo 54-42 on March 23.
Nwaokorie finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Strong added 18 points, four assists and three rebounds. Gichaba had six points and eight rebounds, and Mogaka had four points, five rebounds and four assists.