GREENVILLE -- Great Falls set the tone defensively in the first half of Saturday's 56-41 win over Landrum in the Class A Upper State championship game. Constant pressure of the ball, denied passes and box-outs were the order of the day.
One of the Red Devils' goals coming in was to keep Landrum's all-state post player, high-scoring Alex Wilson, below his season average. If Wilson was going to help his team beat Great Falls, he'd have to do it without the ball in his hands.
The 6-5 senior came into the game averaging 21 points per game. He was held scoreless in the first half and finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds.
Great Falls coach John Smith was focused on limiting Wilson's touches.
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"(Wilson) is a great post player. We didn't want him to catch (the ball). Holding him to 8 points was key," Smith said.
Smith shuttled 6-5 Nate Nelson and 6-5 Josh Lynn in and out of the game and the two seniors made entry passes to Wilson nearly impossible. When he did get the ball, Wilson missed a couple of shots in the paint and attempted one 3-pointer that missed off the front iron in the first half.
"Coach Smith told us we were going to have to put the team on our backs and stop (Wilson)," Nelson said.
Wilson hit two free throws 30 seconds into the third quarter, and then scored from the paint to give Landrum its last lead of the game, 25-24. Great Falls responded with a 12-2 run to end the quarter.
In the fourth, Wilson converted an offensive rebound to cut Great Falls' lead to 41-29. He hit a hook shot in the lane after the outcome was decided.
Meanwhile, Nelson and Lynn more than negated Wilson's offensive output. The tandem combined for 11 points and 11 rebounds in the game.
Lynn made a couple of plays late in the third quarter that gave Great Falls momentum headed into the final frame. A crisp pass inside to Xavier Holmes resulted in a bucket that gave the Red Devils their largest lead of the game to that point, 34-27. Then with 4 seconds left in the third, Lynn scored on a pretty 12-foot turnaround jumper from the baseline.
Lynn, headed to Furman on a football scholarship as a defensive end this fall, only talked about defense after the game.
"We had to get rebounds and control (Wilson). If he couldn't get the ball, we felt like Landrum only had four players on the floor," Lynn said.
Even without Wilson's offensive production, Landrum stayed with Great Falls. The Cardinals trailed 22-18 at the half. A 21-4 second-half surge sealed the game for the Red Devils.
"This year we are a very solid defensive team, and that's a good thing. We aren't going to score 100 points, and if you are looking for a team to put up 15 3s a night you are looking at the wrong team," Smith said.
Landrum's total of 41 points was the second most Great Falls has allowed in this year's playoffs.
"Any time you can hold to 42 or less you've got a good shot. We have matched our style to our players," Smith added.
DeShaun Hall led Landrum with 10 points, playing most of the game at point guard. He said the Red Devils pressed the ball and played good man-to-man defense.
"Williston-Elko and Chesterfield played good defense," Hall said of the Cardinals' previous two opponents. "Great Falls is a little bigger. They are probably the biggest team we've played."