Aaron Lien blistered Brainerd for a Moorhead school-record 53 points Feb. 1 as the Spuds nipped the Warriors 95-93.
On Tuesday, Lien still got his points, scoring 37. But the Warriors played better defense against him and his teammates, and demonstrated poise and backbone down the stretch as they rallied to win the rematch, 66-59 before an electrified crowd in a Section 8-4A home game.
“It was just a packed gym, that was fun to see,” Warriors coach Scott Stanfield said. “Since I’ve been here, there hasn’t been much of that. That was kind of the dream and the goal a couple years ago, that we would like to see the gym full, and it was full tonight.
“I want to thank all the people who came out. Our kids deserve it because of the quality of kids they are. They deserve to play in front of a packed house.”
The Warriors avenged their only loss despite shooting 35 percent (18 of 52) from the field. They compensated by playing decent defense, limiting Moorhead to 41-percent shooting, and turning the ball over just seven times. Brainerd did hit 71 percent of its free throws to improve to 19-1 overall.
After building a 37-30 lead at the intermission, the Warriors lacked energy early in the second. Leading 41-32, they let Moorhead score nine straight points to tie the game at 41. After Jack Sauer’s free throw put Brainerd back up by one, the Spuds scored the next six points for a 47-42 edge.
The Warriors’ defense then took over, restricting Moorhead to 12 points in the last nine minutes, while Brainerd scored 24.
Leading 61-59, Brainerd received two free throws from Marcus Comstock, one from Jagar Hanson and a layup from Jack Sauer in the last 56.7 seconds left to put an exclamation point on the win.
“I thought we played our best basketball after they got up,” Stanfield said. “We called a timeout, and we just challenged the kids because we weren’t moving on defense. ... and we stopped contesting shots.
“After that timeout, we came out refocused and I thought we played probably four minutes of really, really good basketball. We moved the ball well on offense, we were able to hold it for a good 45 seconds to a minute, then we were able to get Ian (Haug) wide open on a three.”
Haug was on fire in the second, finishing with a team-high 21 points. He buried 4 of 5 threes in the second half, jacking up the crowd with each long ball. He finished the game shooting 7-of-11 from 3-point.
“I’ve been in a slump for a while,” Haug said modestly. “I was just trying to make up for it.”
Brainerd more than made up for being unable to stop Lien in the first game. Lien finished 12 of 20 from the field, 11 of 12 at the foul line. But only four other Spuds scored. Haug said the Warriors didn’t change much defensively from the game at Moorhead.
“He’s a really good player,” Haug said of Lien. “We were expecting him to put in a lot of their points, but we knew he wasn’t going to have another game like he did at Moorhead, so we just kept the game plan the same.
“We knew it was going to be pretty much the same thing this time. We knew they were going to come out hard, we just had to come out a little bit harder. We learned a lot from that last game.”
Jack Sauer added 18 points, Tony Sauer nine and Marcus Comstock eight as Brainerd won its fifth straight game and snapped the Spuds’ 6-game win streak.
Lien, Moorhead’s all-time leading scorer, who’s headed for Moorhead State University, put on a shooting clinic in the first, scoring the Spuds’ first 14 points. Trailing 10-6, Brainerd eventually surged ahead 26-18 and 32-22. Lien was 6 of 9 from the floor in the first, 4 of 4 on free throws.
“He elevates, and he’s left-handed, which is different,” Stanfield said. “He elevates just an inch or two above our guys, and he just finishes. He’s a good player.”
It was a 3-point shooting contest in the first as Brainerd scored 27 points from behind the arc to Moorhead’s 12. The Warriors did play tight defense, but the Spuds shot 44 percent from the field compared to Brainerd’s 38 percent.
Moorhead 30 29 — 59
Brainerd 37 29 — 66
Zack Dobbins 4, Aaron Lien 37, Cody Dorow 3, Austin Nelson 8, Tyler Eidsness 7. FG 21-51 (41 percent). FT 12-15 (80 percent). 3-point: 5-15. Turnovers: 11.
Jack Sauer 18, Jacob Blong 5, Marcus Comstock 8, Ian Haug 21, Chris Bowman 2, Tony Sauer 9, Jagar Hanson 3. FG 18-52 (35 percent). FT 17-24 (71 percent). 3-point: 13-38. Turnovers: 7.
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.