HUTCHINSON — Eighth-seeded Cheney apparently had the blueprint to knocking off Norton’s top-seeded Bluejays.
And the Cardinals seemed to execute to near perfection in Thursday’s Class 3A boys’ state quarterfinals at Hutchinson Sports Arena.
The Cardinals mixed up defensive looks, were patient on offense, and most importantly, got two of Norton’s top three players in early foul trouble, holding on for the 54-44 upset.
“We didn’t play very well, didn’t play as good as we should have,” Norton senior Landon Porter said. “It’s tough.”
Early in the second quarter — with the Cardinals already working with a lead — Norton senior guard Tyus Henson already had three fouls. Jace Ruder, the junior who the Bluejays’ look to inside already had two with Norton playing from behind.
The importance of keeping Henson, Ruder and senior guard Landon Porter on the court?
“We know that,” said Norton coach Doug Reusink of avoiding foul trouble. “We know if we don’t have those three guys on the floor most of the time, we’re going to struggle.”
With Henson and Ruder relegated to the bench for big stretches of the first half, it fell on Porter to create the looks for Bluejay buckets.
“It’s hard because I feel like I have to produce myself,” Porter said.
The result was the Bluejays finding themselves in a 26-19 hole after two quarters.
“The first half we kinda battled pretty well without them,” the Norton coach said. “We just can’t do that all night long.”
The Cardinals scored on the first possession of the third quarter after Trey Patterson got free on an inbounds play after Ruder picked up his third foul.
Cheney stretched its lead to double figures with just more than three minutes left in the third quarter, while head coach Mike Quick frequently reminded his team to “be patient.”
The Bluejays cut the lead to eight late in the third after Porter and Carson Wallace scores, but Cardinal guard Trent Scheer broke down the Bluejay defense with a dribble drive to give the eight seed a 40-30 lead to start the final quarter.
“They got to the basket,” Reusink said. “We didn’t do a very good job of defending and keeping them from the basket and rebounding the ball, things we kinda hang our hat on.”
After a 3-point play and a floater from Lane Grace, Cheney stretched its lead to 16 early in the fourth.
Buckets from Wilson Ellis and Wallace helped the Bluejays pull within 11 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Bluejays were already scrambling at that point.
“We got impatient,” the Norton coach said. “We were trying to make something happen too quick. We were just in too big of a hurry to try and get it done.”
Cheney led by double digits until the final minute when a miss on the front end of a one-and-one situation turned into a Ruder 3-pointer on the other end.
Cardinal forward Micah Grover made the final margin 10 points from the free throw line in the final 30 seconds as reality set in for the tournament’s top seed.
“We never really played that well offensively,” Reusink said. “We just didn’t give ourselves a chance. We gotta defend better.”
Porter led the Bluejays with 16 points on 6 of 12 from the field, while Ruder added 11 points.
Scheer led the Cardinals with 12 points, while Laken Petz and Grace added 11 and 10, respectively.
The Cardinals shot 58 percent from the field in the game, compared to the Bluejays’ mark of 39 percent.
Cheney looked like an upset-minded squad out of the gate. Scheer opened the scoring with a pair of 3-pointers that saw the eight seed build a 6-0 lead in the first two minutes.
Ruder cut the lead in half with a 3 for Norton’s first points, but Cheney’s Hunter Adolph answered with a 3 of his own on the other end.
Late in the first, the Bluejays put Porter in the post. The result was a pair of scores that tied the game at nine before Petz gave the Cardinals an 11-9 lead to end the opening period.
With foul trouble taking its toll on Norton, the Cardinals stretched their lead to seven with just over two minutes left in the quarter before a Wilson Ellis triple cut the Cheney lead to 21-17.
The Cardinals got out in transition twice in the final stretch of the first half to lead 26-19 to start the second half.
“I just don’t think our kids handled the situation very well,” Reusink said. “We just didn’t run offense very well.”
Second-seeded Belle Plaine lost earlier Thursday, leaving third-seeded Marysville as the highest seeded team alive for Friday’s semifinals.
The Bluejays end the season 21-3. It wasn’t the finish the team was looking for, but it doesn’t erase a strong run for the Bluejays over the past two seasons.
“We had a good season,” Porter said. “The last three years have been good. I’m blessed to be a part of a good team like this.”