Champlin Park boys basketball is 11-0 overall and the top-ranked team in Class 4A, but the Rebels have been tested in several games already.
They defeated Class 3A second-ranked Totino-Grace in a close game on Feb. 11. They survived a comeback attempt at Robbinsdale Armstrong where a 20-point lead was erased in the second half on Feb. 2.
Champlin Park also trailed at halftime against Maple Grove and Spring Lake Park this season, but a 81-78 overtime win at Park Center (8-3) on Feb. 17 was different.
The Rebels also trailed at halftime against the Pirates, just the third time that Champlin Park didn’t lead after 18 minutes this season. But Park Center also held a seven-point lead 64-57 with just over two minutes to go.
In all 11 wins, this was the first time that Champlin Park had their backs against the wall, but in the end, it didn’t matter.
Senior guard Josh Strong drilled a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 64-60, and Park Center junior guard came right back with a 3-point play to get the lead back to 67-60.
Still no panic. Strong found senior forward Francis Nwaokorie open behind the arc, and he also nailed the shot to make it 67-63.
Senior guard Robert Feahn later had a 3-point play after being fouled on a drive inside, cutting the deficit to 69-66. After one of two free throws by Park center senior forward/guard Jalen Cook, Nwaokorie passed to Strong, who was open around the perimeter, and Strong drilled another long shot to make it 70-69 with just 16.2 seconds to go.
Park Center once again hit just one of two free throws, and Feahn drove the distance of the floor to quickly score inside to tie the game at 71-71. A missed 3-pointer at the buzzer by the Pirates meant the game was going to overtime.
Strong opened the extra time with a basket, and then things were slowed down a bit with several free-throw attempts. Champlin Park led 76-72 with 1:02 to go.
Cook drilled a 3-pointer, and senior guard Dylan Gichaba scored inside. Then, junior guard Leo Torbor knocked in a 3-pointer, and the game was suddenly tied 78-78.
But before anyone could even process what was happening, Gichaba came down on the other end and made a 3-pointer of his own to make it 81-78 with just 2.2 seconds to go.
The fans in attendance went wild for a game that remained wild on the floor. Both teams battled it out like it was a state championship game.
And we almost were treated with more. Park Center junior guard Braeden Carrington threw up a desperation 3-point attempt just past halfcourt, and the ball hit the glass and the rim before bouncing out.
It was inches away from double overtime, but instead, the Rebels celebrated their 10th straight win to start 2021.
All three captains, plus Feahn, were integral in the win. Nwaokorie finished with 28 points, with 21 in the second half and overtime, and 14 rebounds, and Strong added 24 points, with 14 in the first half, and also had seven assists and four rebounds. Gichaba scored all 12 of his points in the second half and overtime, and Feahn had 10 of his 12 points in the second half and overtime.
In fact, the only players to score points in the second half and overtime were those four. Senior guard Adrian Mogaka had three points, and junior forward Ayo Taki had a long 2-point shot in the first half.
Champlin Park jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first half and also led early in the second half.
Strong hit three 3-pointers and added a couple of free throws, and Nwaokorie also scored and added some free throws to make it 15-5.
Mogaka hit one of two free throws to make it 16-5, and Strong followed up a 3-point shot by Cook with one of his own to push the lead back to 11, 19-8.
But Park Center slowly chipped the lead away with Carrington later hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 29-26 Pirates.
Nwaokorie scored inside at the end of the half on a pass from junior guard Ethan Lukandwa.
The Rebels retook the lead early in the second half with a 3-pointer by Feahn on a pass by Strong and a couple of free throws by Nwaokorie, making it 33-29.
Torbor later hit back-to-back shots for Park Center to tie the game, and Cook followed a Nwaokorie basket to make it 37-37. Cook gave the Pirates a 40-37 lead with a 3-pointer, and Champlin Park wouldn’t lead again until the 6:20 mark of the second half following a basket by Gichaba that made it 54-53.
Senior center James Parker added a basket inside and a 3-point play to put Park Center back up 58-54, and it took the final shot of the half for the game to be tied again.
Both teams do play in different divisions in the Northwest Suburban Conference. The Rebels (6-0) lead Andover (8-3, 5-2) by a game and a half in the North division, and Park Center plays in the West division.
Both teams do play in the same section, however, and will meet again in the regular season on March 11 at Champlin Park High School. So this could be a preview of what to expect in the future.
Champlin Park 95, Coon Rapids 76
The Rebels remained undefeated Feb. 19 with a 95-76 win over Coon Rapids.
Champlin Park led 43-33 at halftime and almost reached the century mark with a 52-43 advantage in the second half.
Nwaokorie had a double-double with 26 points and 13 rebounds. He also had three steals, three assists and a block.
Strong had 24 points, six steals and six assists, and Gichaba added 16 points and five rebounds. Taki chipped in with nine points and five rebounds, and Hoek had eight points.
Mogaka collected six points, eight assists, four steals and four assists. Feahn had six rebounds, three points, three assists and three steals.
Junior guard Ethan Lukandwa had three points and a steal.