BEMIDJI -- After finishing the regular season with an 11-11 record and advancing to the East Sub-section 6A semifinals, Pillager is enjoying its best season in boys basketball in quite a while.
But on Thursday night at Bemidji State University, it couldn't have ended more abruptly, dramatically or disappointingly.
The Cass Lake-Bena Panthers, seeded No. 2, scored 25 points in the fourth quarter and then defeated the third-seeded Huskies 63-62 in overtime to advance to the sub-section final against Laporte.
"The kids played their hearts out," Husky assistant coach Jerry Fornshell said. "(Our kids) deserved to win it. We were the better team.
"But we were 7-for-14 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. You can't do that and expect to win a big game."
Pillager led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter and led 40-30 at the start of the fourth, but a three pointer by Jeremy Gagola with just under one minute in regulation tied the game for the first time since early in the first period.
The Huskies then hit 4 of 6 free throws in the next 18 seconds to push the lead to four. Panthers freshman Ken Staples then came down and hit a three pointer from the right side of the key to cut the lead to one and Pillager point guard Lee Roberts was immediately fouled.
He calmly sank both free throws with 18 seconds remaining, but Staples, who had already hit four threes in the game, came down and fired a shot from beyond the arc that clanked off the rim. But Gagola was able to get a hand on the ball and swatted it back to Staples, who connected and tied the game at the buzzer.
"They had the luck on their side when they shot the threes," Fornshell said of the Panthers, who hit nine in the game, including six in the second half and overtime.
The game was back and forth throughout the overtime as the Huskies built a three-point lead when Roberts connected on two more free throws with under a minute to play. Justin Johnson came down on the next possession, pulled up from 22-feet and tied the game at 61.
After a reach-in foul on the Panthers' Al Boswell, Pillager sophomore Adam Brown hit one free throw with 16 seconds left, but Staples broke the Husky press and found Kyle Fairbanks for a layup.
With only nine seconds to do so, Roberts took the ball the length of the floor and was fouled as he drove to the basket with 1.1 seconds remaining. Roberts, who had connected on 8 of his previous 10 free throws, had his first effort fall short and his second go long.
"The fans sure came through and disrupted the shots," said Panthers coach Dan Ninham, whose team is 14-8 this season after finishing 9-14 last year.
The Pillager defense also did some disrupting. The Panthers were only 19 of 61 (31 percent) from the field and leading scorer Roman Brown had only 11 points (he was averaging 19.4). But it was Staples, a reserve guard, who stepped up big for Cass Lake-Bena. He came in averaging 3.4 points a game and finished with 21 on the night.
"People needed to step up and I'm sure glad they did," Ninham said of Brown picking up his third foul in the first quarter and then fouling out with two minutes left in regulation. "We have some role players and (Staples) is one of them. We have to prepare our freshmen. Ken Staples will have to step up and lead us next year."
Roberts finished with 22 points to lead the Huskies, while Dan Goeritz added 16 and Brown had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
"This is the best year in a long time," Fornshell said. "We weren't supposed to be here in the first place. Coach 'B' (head coach Jim Bentson) has done a heck of a job with the kids, but we just came up a little short."
Pillager 15 10 15 15 7 --62
Cass Lake-Bena 6 10 14 25 8 -- 63
Carl Wiegert 4, Adam Brown 12, Eric Pook 4, Lee Roberts 22, Dan Goeritz 16, Jeff Eastman 2, Josh Eastman 2. Team totals: FG 19, FT 23-28 (82 percent). Overall -- Pillager finishes 12-12.
CASS LAKE-BENA (63)
Jeremy Gagola 8, Kyle Fairbanks 3, Justin Johnson 8, Kyle Rausch 6, Ken Staples 21, Al Boswell 6, Ramon Brown 11. Team totals: FG 19, FT 16-24 (67 percent). Overall -- 16-8
3-point baskets -- Goeritz, Gagola, Johnson, Staples 5, Boswell 2. Rebounds -- P 32 (R. Brown 10), CLB 35 (Gogola 10). Total fouls -- P 22, CLB 28. Fouled out -- Rausch, Staples, R. Brown.
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