STATE BASKETBALL: SWC wins 46-44 thriller over R-P to punch ticket to Class A championship gameMINNEAPOLIS — The Eagles hadn’t had a game like this one in awhile. The Southwest Christian boys’ basketball team couldn’t breathe easy until there was just 0.1 seconds remaining on the clock, knowing a victory was secured.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Eagles hadn’t had a game like this one in awhile.
The Southwest Christian boys’ basketball team couldn’t breathe easy until there was just 0.1 seconds remaining on the clock, knowing a victory was secured.
Prior to Friday’s state tournament semifinal, the Eagles hadn’t had a game come down to the wire since the first round of the playoffs when they defeated Hills-Beaver Creek 61-58. Prior to that it was a 77-75 victory over Ellsworth on Feb. 17.
Otherwise, the game has been over well before the final buzzer, the Eagles knowing they were advancing to the next round before the current game was even over.
But that was not the case in Friday’s state semifinal game against Rushford-Peterson.
Luckily for the Eagles, they came out on top, winning the contest 46-44 to advance to the Class A state championship today against Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.
“This is pretty exciting,” SWC junior Eric Talsma said. “I just have to let it sink in for a little bit because that was a scare. We’re just trying to take it all in right now and hopefully we can come out and play strong tomorrow. It’s just really unreal right now.”
With under a minute left in the game, SWC took its first lead since early on in the first half on a layup by Zach Huisken to make the score 43-42.
Two free-throw shots by Andrew Top with 24 seconds to play extended the Eagles’ lead to three points (45-42) and gave SWC some breathing room heading down the stretch.
But it was too early to get comfortable yet.
The Trojans stormed down the court and R-P’s Nick Thompson sunk a shot from along the arc that ended up being reviewed to determine if it was beyond the 3-point arc. The officials decided Thompson’s foot was on the line, therefore R-P was awarded just two points, making the score 45-44 in favor of SWC with 10 seconds to play.
When the officials gathered the coaches together to explain their decision, R-P head coach Thomas Vix joked that he really wished Thompson had worn smaller shoes to the game.
But all joking aside, SWC had possession with a one-point lead with 10 seconds left to play.
As anyone would guess, as soon as the Eagles threw the ball inbounds, R-P fouled them, sending Top to the line.
Top sunk one shot and missed another to give SWC a 46-44 lead with eight seconds left in regulation.
Huisken managed to block another Thompson 3-point attempt with five seconds left to give the Eagles the ball with the seconds ticking away.
It was then, with 0.1 seconds left on the clock and Huisken going to the line that the Eagles knew they were advancing to the state finals. It wasn’t until then that the game was secured.
“It was until 0.1 seconds left on the clock that I knew it was ours,” Talsma said. “That’s the only time I felt really at peace during the game. I knew we had it then. When that No. 21 came down and made that shot, that was a scary moment. Just to know that they had the mental capacity to do that really showed that we really had to be careful the rest of the game and we didn’t have it in the bag yet.”
The game was close the entire way through. The biggest lead in the game came with 16:50 left to play, when R-P had established an eight-point gap (30-22).
The score was tied seven times throughout the contest and there were four lead changes.
SWC’s biggest lead came just two minutes into the first half when the Eagles were up by five points (7-2).
The Eagles trailed nearly the entire second half, not tying the score up until Talsma hit a free-throw shot to make the score 39-all with 2:07 left to play. And they didn’t take their first lead in the second half until there was less than one minute to play.
“Wow, it sure was a battle the whole way,” SWC head coach Jamie Pap said. “We really had to fight hard for it the whole night. Our defense came through huge for us. Things weren’t flowing for us so well on offense. We were getting good looks, but we just couldn’t get the ball in the hoop. Shots just wouldn’t fall. I liked our shot selection the whole game, we weren’t forcing them. They just weren’t falling for us. A lot of teams might roll over when that’s not happening. That just says a lot about the heart and determination of this group of guys out here.”
Pap has told his team over and over again this season that it doesn’t matter as much if the Eagles’ shots are falling, but that their defense has to be outstanding day in and day out.
And it was SWC’s defense that advanced the team to the state finals today.
The Eagles finished the game with eight steals, five blocked shots — three from Huisken, alone — nine forced turnovers and 30 rebounds. That is compared to the three steals, three blocked shots, 14 forced turnovers and just seven offensive rebounds the Trojans had.
“Defense is what got us through the game,” Top said. “We pretty much struggled the entire game on offense, but with Klint [Knutson] and Dom [Nibbelink] harassing their guards up front like that, it’s what kept us in the game the whole time. We’ve been working on our defense all season and what we did today is the epitome of what we want to do every game.”
Offensively, the game wasn’t as pretty for the Eagles.
SWC finished the game with a 31.9 shooting percentage from the field (15-of-47) and shot just 56.5 percent from the free-throw line (13-of-23).
For a team that normally has multiple players scoring in double digits, Top was the only Eagle to do so Friday, finishing the game with 11 points and four rebounds.
Talsma had nine points and four rebounds, while Klint Knutson, Dominic Nibbelink and Huisken each had seven points.
“I think it’s like Coach [Pap] said. We were struggling the first three-fourths of the game and then we finally just turned a corner and turned it on,” Talsma said. “Our defense started working for us and that transferred into the offense. All the guys started playing confident again and we just started to be our normal selves.”
There is only one game left in the season for the Eagles and it is the coveted championship contest.
SWC (28-1) takes on B-B-E (32-0) at noon at the Target Center today in the Class A title game.
The Jaguars haven’t lost since the Class A championship game last season, when their undefeated season was ruined with a 70-58 loss to Springfield.
The Eagles are hoping to spoil B-B-E’s undefeated season again this year. SWC is on a 22-game winning streak, having not lost since a 79-78 loss to Worthington on Jan. 6.
“Defense is going to be the key tomorrow,” Top said. “B-B-E’s really, really good. They’re undefeated so far this season. We’re going to have to play extremely tough defense again and hopefully we can get a few more shots to fall in that game.”
SWC 22 24 — 46
R-P 28 16 — 44
SWC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Knutson 1-0-4-7, Top 0-3-5-11, Nibbelink 1-2-0-7, Sampson 1-1-0-5, Huisken 0-3-1-7, Talsma 0-3-3-9. Total 3-12-13-46.
R-P (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) O’Hare 0-1-3-5, Thompson 1-7-3-20, Vix 2-3-2-14, Kingsley 0-1-2-4, Hauge 0-0-1-1. Total 3-12-11-44.
Daily Globe Sports Reporter Jocelyn Syrstad can be reached at 376-7335.