The Brainerd Warriors boys' basketball team finally got the monkey off its back and nipped the Rocori Spartans 48-46 in Central Lakes Conference play Friday.
With 11.7 seconds left and the game tied, Brainerd came out of a timeout with a play set for captain Mike Zauhar. Zauhar got the inbound pass, and Rocori quickly fouled.
The Warriors weren't in a bonus free-throw situation yet so they inbounded the ball again with 5.8 seconds remaining. The play once again was for Zauhar who cut toward the basket. He caught the ball, examined the floor and made his move.
He was quickly corralled by two Spartan players. His pass attempt was deflected. A scramble for the loose ball ended when Brainerd's other captain, Jorgen Hartje, knocked it off a Rocori player and out of bounds.
With 1.6 seconds remaining Rocori called a timeout.
"We thought if it was a man-to-man (defense) we could run a play and set a screen and get a guy cutting to the basket on the backside," said Warriors coach Matt Urbanek. "If it was a zone, we thought we could screen the middle defender and get the lob in the middle.
"They came out in a zone and Bryce (Cloutier) did a nice job of setting the screen, Jorgen did a nice job of setting his man up and coming off the screen and Mike Zauhar made a nice pass to Jorgen.
"It felt pretty good when the shot went through."
The play was the same as what the Warriors ran earlier in the first half. The result was a Hartje miss. Brainerd has run the play about nine times this season all resulting in a Hartje miss. But the senior was determined to make it this time.
"I had no doubt that I could put it in," said Hartje. "That was a good time for it to fall right there. I was pretty confident.
"We had run that play a lot, but I knew I could make it."
Zauhar scored seven of his game-high 23 in the fourth quarter to keep Brainerd's lead.
"He had a great game," said Urbanek of Zauhar. "I think he really put the team on his back and was a real leader on the floor."
Jake Phillips added 10 points, Hartje seven and Cloutier six.
"Coach had confidence in us to win this game," Hartje said. "I think we needed the confidence put back into ourselves and I think that's what he did.
"(Urbanek) told us to go out and play hard and win with defense like we did earlier in the year. That's what we did. We started out strong, kept them in the 40s and that's how we win."
Brainerd led at the half 28-15, but Rocori battled back with sniper-like shooting. Rocori shot 5-of-9 in the third quarter to pull the score to 37-29 and shot 7-of-10, including three threes to finally tie the game at 46.
Brainerd's last game was a 74-34 loss to Class 3A's second-ranked Grand Rapids Thunderhawks. It was the Warriors' third straight loss so they were intent on not dropping another.
"(Grand Rapids) was better than us, but we all thought, players included, that we got outworked the last game," said Urbanek. "Even though they were better, they worked harder than we did.
"We had a real emphasis (Friday) to play intense for four quarters, not be outworked and play very aggressive defense.
"I thought our kids did a great job of that. Everyone that played came up with a big contribution. We had a lot of guys make big plays."
The Warriors improved to 8-10 overall. They are 5-4 on the road but 2-6 at home before Friday's win.
"After that disappointing loss to Grand Rapids, I think we had a new atmosphere in practice," said Zauhar. "We were busting our tails each day in practice. To be honest, our legs are all sore from Wednesday and Thursday practice.
"Our defense is our No. 1 priority and we're going to win games with our defense. We're not bigger than anybody and we're not more talented than anybody. We just have to put more heart in our defense and that's what we did."
Rocori 6 9 14 17 -- 46
Brainerd 11 17 9 11 -- 48
Quenton Lind 1, Ryan Lieser 10, Mike Burtzel 2, Noah Willenbring 12, Zach Reif 10, Robert Lutgen 11. Team totals: FG 17-40 (43 percent), FT 6-8 (75 percent). Conference -- 3-6. Overall -- 8-10.
Jake Phillips 10, Mike Zauhar 23, Jorgen Hartje 7, Bryce Cloutier 6. Team totals: FG 20-46 (43 percent), FT 7-9 (78 percent). Conference -- 3-6. Overall -- 8-10. Next game: vs. St. Cloud Tech 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
3-point baskets -- B 1 (Zauhar), R 6 (Lieser 2, Reif 2, Lutgen 2). Rebounds -- B 22 (Cloutier 9). Turnovers -- B 6. Total fouls -- B 10, R 9. Assists -- B 11 (Zauhar 6). Steals -- B 4 (Derek Levno 2). Blocks -- B 2.
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