Under immense pressure, Jagar Hanson and the Brainerd Warriors came through in the clutch and completed a valiant comeback.
With five-tenths of a second remaining, the junior post drained two foul shots to give the Warriors a thrilling 80-78 non-conference win Tuesday night.
The frenetic and entertaining contest was tied at 78 and Little Falls had possession. Flyers post Matt Valentine missed a contested 5-footer with about a second left and fouled Hanson on the rebound.
Hanson calmly stepped to the line and sank two to give Brainerd its fourth straight win and snap a 10-game win streak for Class 3A’s 10th-ranked Flyers.
“I was expecting to go into overtime,” Hanson said. “We were down at the opposite end, we had to go down the whole court, but I was surprised he came down and fouled me with half a second left.
“Two shots is really a nice buffer zone. I felt really good with two shots, more than I would have with a one-and-one. I felt pretty confident with those last two.”
The contest also featured an emotional finish. Following a timeout by each team, the Flyers threw the ball the length of the court and the pass was intercepted by Brainerd in front of the Little Falls bench. There was contact in the Flyers’ back court on the pass, but no foul was called and time expired.
“We were trying to draw a charge on them,” Flyers coach Kevin Jordan said, “and I thought we did draw a charge, but obviously we didn’t because it wasn’t called.
“Bottom line, Brainerd deserved to win the basketball game. We didn’t.”
Jack Sauer paced Brainerd with 18 points and Marcus Comstock added 11. Chris Bowman and Ian Haug each came off the Warrior bench to score 11.
The Flyers were led by Valentine with 18 points and 11 rebounds, Tommy Smith with 17 points off the bench and Collin Eckman with 11. Little Falls’ bench outscored Brainerd’s just 37-33.
“Without our depth we don’t beat them,” Warriors coach Scott Stanfield said. “That’s what (the Flyers) do, they go five on, five off and try to run teams in the ground and they’re fast. To our kids’ credit we were able to keep most of our kids fresh.
“Ian comes in off the bench and scores 11. Chris comes in and plays a great game. Dustin Borlaug hits a three in the first half.
“The kids have some confidence. They know that all of them have the green light to shoot the ball if they’re open. That’s what they play the game for, and that’s what we’ve decided to do as a coaching staff. If it goes in, it goes in, but they’ve got to be comfortable doing that and most of them are.”
Jordan thought his team got fatigued by Brainerd’s depth.
“One advantage we’ve had all year long is we wear teams down,” he said. “I didn’t think Brainerd wore down at all. In fact, I thought we wore down mentally. We got mentally weaker as the game went along.”
The win completed a dramatic Warrior comeback. Brainerd trailed by as many as 14 in the first half, but played a tenacious second half.
It was tied seven times in the second half. Haug’s free throw with 10:01 left gave Brainerd its first lead since early in the game. The lead exchanged hands nine times until 1:34 remained when Hanson sank two free throws and Jack Sauer added one for a 78-75 Brainerd edge. An old-fashioned 3-point play by the Flyers’ Grant Bell tied it at 78, setting up Hanson’s heroics.
“I thought Brainerd did a great job the last two-thirds of the game, keeping their composure, attacking us, getting great shots and getting rebounds,” Jordan said. “They had a lot more heart than we did.”
In the first half, the Flyers dashed up and down the court to a 44-36 edge. Shuffling reserves in and out, sometimes four at a time, they shot 53 percent from the field (17 of 32) and were hot from behind the arc, making 6 of 8.
Little Falls also crashed the boards in the first, led by the 6-5 Valentine. He made 6 of 7 shots for 12 points in the first. Little Falls had 13 second-chance points in the half, four by Valentine.
Brainerd, which shot just 38 percent (13 of 34) in the first, was led by Jack Sauer’s nine points in that span.
Little Falls 44 34 — 78
Brainerd 36 44 — 80
Grant Bell 7, Collin Eckman 11, Josh Wenzel 5, Matt Valentine 18, Troy Scott 9, Thomas Smith 17, Jake Scott 3, Spencer Lubbers 8. FG 27-58 (27 percent). FT 16-23 (70 percent). 3-point baskets: 8-17. Turnovers: 17.
Jack Sauer 18, Tommy Olson 2, Riley Kline 7, Marcus Comstock 11, Jagar Hanson 9, Tony Sauer 2, Blake Peterson 6, Chris Bowman 11, Dustin Borlaug 3, Ian Haug 11. FG 27-66 (41 percent). FT 17-23 (74 percent). 3-point baskets: 9-24. Turnovers: 16.
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.