State boys basketball: Last-second free throw lifts Cretin-Derham Hall over Rosemount

Wednesday’s Class 4A state quarterfinal against Rosemount was a long time coming for Cretin-Derham Hall.

The Raiders were part of the state qualifying group last year that never got a chance to play, as COVID-19 hit days before the tournament was scheduled to commence.

Thanks to a Tre Holloman buzzer-beating three-pointer in the section final against Woodbury last week, the Raiders had the chance to rectify it. And on Wednesday, a Marselio Mendez free throw with 0.2 seconds left in the game elevated the Raiders to a 41-40 victory over the Irish at East Ridge High School.

Cretin-Derham Hall will play Maple Grove, which upset top-seeded Champlin Park, in the state semifinals at Target Center on April 8.

“Last year, it got taken away from us so fast,” Mendez said. “It was sad, especially for the seniors. We had to get it back for them this year.”

With the game tied at 40, Holloman, who forced an over and back on the previous possession, inbounded the ball to Mendez with 2.5 seconds left. Mendez caught the ball at the top of the three-point arc, drove and was fouled as he put up a floater.

After the first free throw bounced around and out, Mendez calmly nailed the second free throw to clinch the game.

“Even though it missed, the first one felt good. So I was like, ‘I can finish it off here,’” Mendez said.

While the free throw served as a rather fitting way to end a game that saw both teams labor for every point, it was a rather controversial call for the same reason. Both teams played with great physicality.

“They had let us be physical, both teams, for the whole game, and then to call a little reach like that. Could it have been a foul? Yeah, but it’s a tough call against us,” Rosemount coach Lance Walsten said, “especially with the reaching that was going on on the other half that caused the over and back. But that’s part of basketball. Sometimes you get calls, and sometimes you don’t.”

The game featured 31 made field goals and 24 fouls. Cretin-Derham Hall coach Jerry Kline compared it to “a classic Hoosiers slugfest.”

“That was the epitome of a playoff game with a lot on the line,” Kline said. “Both teams played their heart out. It could’ve gone either way.”

For much of the game, it looked like it was going to go Rosemount’s way. The Irish set out to slow down and frustrate Holloman, a senior four-star recruit and 20-point per game scorer. He struggled to find much of the rhythm with his own shot and was forced into some uncharacteristic turnovers. But in the final minutes, he hit a layup and created several other open looks for his teammates to help win the game. He finished with 13 points.

For Rosemount, it puts an end to a historic year for the program. Perpetually in the cellar of the South Suburban Conference, the Irish went on a run in the section tournament to make their first state tournament appearance since 1987.

“I’m just so proud of these guys. They’ve come from a situation where there wasn’t a lot of hope,” Walsten said. “And when there’s not a lot of hope, you’ve got to generate it on your own. And you could see the determination these guys have.”

Rosemount’s leading scorer was Caleb Siwek with 15.

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