by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
One night after U of M students stormed the court when the Gophers beat top-ranked Indiana, the Elk River boys sparked a similar celebration albeit with a slightly smaller crowd.
Clay Elrod’s long three-point shot with three seconds left — and his 12 straight free shots in the second half before that — lifted the Elks to a 47-46 stunner over the Osseo Orioles, defending state champions currently ranked No. 2 in the state.
“I wanted them to rush the court,” grinned Porter Morrell, who scored 14 points and had the good sense to flip the ball to Elrod with time running out, “and it was a big enough game where they deserved to rush the court.”
After an interception by Bryan Edwards sealed the win, dozens of schoolmates, mostly fellow athletes, varsity and younger, flooded unto the court to mob their team and jostle the hero of the game. When a boy athlete does something really good, he doesn’t just get hugged and patted on the back, he gets shoved and jolted and chest-butted, too. Elrod was practically mugged.
The Elks broke a 14-game losing streak against Osseo dating back to a 73-48 win in February of 2006, the year the Elks last won conference and went to state. Osseo won the rematch that year and every game since.
“But Osseo has long winning streaks against LOTS of teams in the conference,” coach Randy Klasen reminded the local press.
Osseo (22-3) had won 15 straight since losing to current No. 1 ranked Apple Valley 74-71 on Dec. 29. The Orioles have split with No. 3 ranked Park Center but the loss to the Elks will likely cost them a share of the Northwest Suburban crown.
Elrod scored 23 points, perfect at the line in 12 attempts. The lanky 6-foot-6 junior forward made three 3-pointers but had missed two down the stretch — including one with 10 seconds left.
When he came up short on that one, Elrod alertly followed his shot and teamed up with Terry Hadden to tie up the ball after Osseo’s Tyrin Vann yanked down the rebound. The Elks, fortunately, had the possession arrow and new life, and inbounded with six seconds left.
Morrell, who made four 3-pointers himself, passed up a shot from about five feet outside the arc and tossed it to Elrod on the left wing, a similar distance from the hoop.
“I knew what would happen,” Morrell claimed with another big grin, “if Clay took the shot.”
Elrod hit nothing but net.
“I don’t even know where I was,” said Elrod, asked if that was the longest three he’s made. “It was right up there.”
Osseo still had 2.6 seconds left but Edwards intercepted in inbounds pass directed at 6-foot-10 Ian Theisen under the hoop. He was fouled by the big guy and missed two free shots, which worked in the Elks favor because the Orioles had just .7 of a second left when they got the rebound.
Osseo is led by two all-tournament players from last year’s state championship team — Theisen, a junior, who scored 12 points, and rugged senior point guard Bridge Tussler, who scored 17. Tussler, one of the metro area’s premier athletes, was the Star-Tribune’s pick for metro football player of the year as a fullback/linebacker.
But both Osseo stars had a mishap in the final half-minute that helped the Elks recover from a 46-41 deficit.
Tussler, a fierce defender, tripped while backpedaling as he guarded Morrell coming over the time line, and Morrell, wide open, canned a 3-pointer.
With 24 seconds left, the Elks fouled Theisen to send him to the line. Theisen missed both shots with his team up 46-44. Edwards rebounded, setting up the drama at the Elks’ end of the court.
Edwards was next with eight points as the Elks big three scored 45 of the 47 points against the searing Osseo defense.
The Elks, who lost to Osseo 86-72 on Jan. 22, played some stout team defense themselves, obviously, in holding the Orioles to 40 fewer points in the rematch.
“They couldn’t score against us this time — we defended pretty well,” said Klasen.
Morrell credited better rebounding and fewer turnovers for the victory in the rematch.
“We ran a new set to help with limiting turnovers and executed it really well.”
The Elks led 8-4 early, then trailed until Elrod’s final shot. They were down 19-15 at halftime.
“The first half was a grind,” said Klasen. “Nobody could score. It was a battle of wills.”
The Elks got untracked a little when they finally got to the line in the second half, sinking 14 of 16. Fortunately it was Elrod who usually got fouled, churning toward the hoop.
It was Senior Night, too, and a sweet one for honorees Morrell, Hadden, Edwards, Max Person, Jordan Meyer and Isac Howard.
The victory left the Elks in a four-way tie for third place in the 11-team NWSC with a 12-7 record, and 17-8 overall with the conference finale Friday at Centennial.
“One of the team’s five goals was to place third in the conference,” said Klasen, acknowledging that Park Center and Osseo would be the top two, “and if we can win Friday, the guys can tie for third, which would be quite an accomplishment. But that will be a tough game, too.”