Russell-Tyler-Ruthton senior guard Aiden Wichmann enjoys smiling and carrying on conversations with opposing players during stoppages of play.
He saved his biggest smile for after the final horn sounded Saturday, when he was being hugged by teammates following the Knights' 59-49 victory over New Life Academy for the Class 1A boys basketball state championship Saturday at Target Center. It was the sixth-ranked Knights' fourth state title.
"It's all about having a love for the game," said Wichmann, who finished with a game-high 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists. "In the end, it's about 10 guys out there competing and having fun. Plus, you never know who you might meet."
His coach, Daren Gravley, likely was in no mood for making new acquaintances as the Eagles trimmed a 16-point halftime deficit to three, 48-45, with 7 minutes, 28 seconds remaining. Senior guard Maxwell Briggs fueled a 10-point run for the Eagles, scoring seven of his 17 points during the spurt.
"We had to refocus, get back to the basics," said Gravley, who used two timeouts during the run. "We had to take a breath."
The margin wavered between three and five points for the next five minutes before the Knights (31-1) put the game away at the free throw line. Their final seven points (7-for-9) came on free throws.
The third-ranked Eagles (27-6) made it 52-49 on Briggs' layup with 4:42 remaining. They didn't score the rest of the way, missing their last nine shots.
"It was an awesome game, awesome fight," Eagles coach Robbie Whitney said. "We came up a little short."
The Knights picked apart the Eagles in the first half, building a 38-22 lead by halftime. Their experienced, cohesive group was on display from the outset. Different players scored the Knights' first six baskets, and five players had assists at halftime.
"We had some really big bench minutes," Gravley said. "Everybody was locked in."
Junior forward Drew Werkman scored 15 points for the Knights, who shot 48% from the floor while limiting the Eagles to 31% shooting and 17% from three-point range.
"It's a pretty surreal feeling right now," Gravley said. "It's really special."