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Warriors Division II NCAA Champs honored April 8 (03/29/2006)
By Brian P. Heilman
No more magic tricks.

No more nail-biting suspense.

No more against-all-odds last-minute miracles.

More, more, more joy.

In the single most important basketball game in Winona history, the Winona State University Warriors did the unexpected: they took the lead and held it.

Forty minutes later, the purple-and-white were crowned NCAA Division II Men's Basketball National Champions, ending an exhilarating run through the playoffs that had Winonans abuzz with excitement.

Winona State defeated defending national champions Virginia Union University 71-63 on Saturday, in front of a crowd of 4,000 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.

A nationwide television audience, including innumerable rapt Winonans, saw the Warriors at their absolute best.

Winona's defense, stiflingly quick, surprised the Virginia boys. Falcons Duan Crockett and Darius Hargrove, both All-Americans, combined for a paltry 17 points against the swift Warriors.

The Warriors' offense was a perfectly balanced inside-outside attack, with all five of the Warriors' traditional starting lineup scoring in double figures.

Once again, Warriors David Zellmann and John Smith proved to be, respectively, the team's spark plug and inside force.

Zellmann, WSU's All-American senior guard, finished with a game-high 26 points, including a preposterous seven three-pointers.

Smith turned in another double-double performance with ten points and thirteen rebounds.

Jonte Flowers, named the game's outstanding player by the CBS announcers, contributed an impressive 15 point, six assist, five steal effort.

The Warriors jumped to an early lead, topping the stunned Falcons by as many as 18 points in the first half. Virginia Union fought back steadily, coming within five points of the Warriors late in the second half, but Zellmann's long-range accuracy and the Warriors' solid free-throw shooting kept the Falcons at bay.

With an eleven point lead and just seconds remaining in the contest, Warriors coach Mike Leaf substituted five of his reserve players into the game, allowing Zellmann, Smith, Zach Malvik, Quincy Henderson and Jonte Flowers to receive a well-deserved ovation from the crowd, which included two busloads of Winona supporters.

"Isn't that amazing?" Leaf said after the game, referring to his team's first tournament victory that didn't require come-from-behind magic or last-minute heroics.

"We came out on fire, we hit some nice shots from the outside, and we were able to get it inside to John Smith as well. That's been our bread and butter all year."

On Saturday, that bread and butter turned into champagne and celebration.

The celebration is set to continue on April 8, when Winona State officials plan to hold a parade and party for the team.

"This has just been awesome for our university and the town of Winona," said Leaf.

How right he is. 


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