No. 10 NRHEG tops No. 7 USC

Published 11:17 pm Friday, January 16, 2015

Spencer Tollefson of NRHEG leaps toward the basket as he is defended by United South Central's Riley Kloos Friday at Wells. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

Spencer Tollefson of NRHEG leaps toward the basket as he is defended by United South Central’s Riley Kloos Friday at Wells. — Micah Bader/Albert Lea Tribune

WELLS — Despite facing its largest deficit eight minutes before the final buzzer, the NRHEG boys’ basketball team kept its composure.

“I kept telling our kids to calm down, move the ball, get good looks and get a few stops,” said NRHEG coach Pat Churchill. “There was a lot of time left.”

The No. 10 Class AA Panthers responded to their 59-51 deficit with a 13-4 run that propelled the team past No. 7 Class A United South Central 72-70 Friday at Wells.

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“It was disappointing for us as far as having a lead like that and letting it slip away little by little, but I told the kids I’m proud of their effort and how they battled until the end,” said USC coach Rob Stevermer. “We had our chances. We’re just going to have to learn from it and execute some things better moving forward.”

With three minutes left, NRHEG took a 64-63 lead on a jump shot by Macoy Schwierjohann. But the game was far from over.

At the two-minute mark, Luke Trio, who led all scorers with 31 points, buried a 3-pointer to recapture the lead for USC, 66-65.

However, 20 seconds later, NRHEG’s Spencer Tollefson answered with a trey of his own.

“Trevor (Tracy) set a good screen on my guy, and I back-picked him,” said Tollefson. “It felt good right away as it was leaving my hand. I was wide open and just knocked it down.”

Tollefson added two more of his 21 points on a drive to the basket that pushed the Panthers’ lead to four points after the Rebels missed both free throws in the double bonus on their end.

USC was down, but not out. Trio drained another shot from beyond the arc with 20.9 seconds left to cut the Rebels’ deficit to two points, 71-69.

At that point, USC was in a more favorable position than it was on Dec. 29 against Jackson County Central. In that game, the Rebels erased a six-point deficit with 18.3 seconds left to force overtime.

NRHEG made only 1-of-4 free throws in the last 20.9 seconds, but USC was unable to make up any ground when a 3-pointer rimmed out along with the final putback attempt.

“Both teams played with a lot of heart,” Stevermer said. “It was a big conference rivalry game, and no baskets were going to come easy.”

In the first half, neither team could get much of an edge. Eight minutes into the game, the score was tied at 14. Three minutes before halftime it was tied at 26. A pair of free throws by Trio with 5.7 seconds left gave USC a 39-38 lead at the break.

Trio scored 16 points in the first half, and Kevin Kalis, the Panthers’ leading scorer, scored 14 of his 24 points.

“Kevin had a good night in the post, and Spencer heated up in the second half and hit some big shots,” Churchill said.

NRHEG (11-2 overall, 6-1 Gopher Conference) won its fifth consecutive game, and USC (11-3 overall, 4-2 Gopher Conference) dropped its second straight. The Panthers are first in the seven-team conference standings, and the Rebels are third.

Maple River (13-2 overall, 5-1 Gopher Conference) is second in the standings and has beaten NRHEG and USC but lost to a team NRHEG and USC beat: Waterville-Elysian-Morristown (10-5 overall, 3-2 Gopher Conference).

“We feel really good to come into their place and win a road game, but we know that every night there’s going to be another good team in our conference waiting for us,” Churchill said.

Look for results from the Panthers’ game Saturday against Columbia Heights (6-8 overall, 2-2 Tri-Metro Conference) in Monday’s Tribune. Next, NRHEG will play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Blue Earth (5-9 overall, 2-5 Big South Conference).

The Rebels will host Truman/Martin Luther/Granada-Huntley-East Chain (6-8 overall, 2-2 Valley Conference) at 7:30 p.m. Monday.