Boys Basketball: Wingers walk away with wild one
The pressure was on for Red Wing senior Luke Bryant.
With the 3rd-seeded Wingers trailing 56-55 to No. 6 Albert Lea after Dylan See-Rockers drained a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left, Bryant got to the line for a 1-and-1 with 3.5 seconds on the clock.
"Our kids came down and we tried to attack the basket," said Red Wing head coach Doug Toivonen. "The ball gets tipped and you're like 'Uh oh.' And Luke picked it up, was going to shoot it and he got fouled."
At this point, Bryant was 1-for-3 from the free-throw line. And to say the pressure was mounting is a vast understatement. But Bryant kept cool, hit one, then hit the other free throw to put the Wingers up 57-56.
"I focused on my form," Bryant said. "The two I missed beforehand I kind of rushed those, so I just made sure I didn't rush them this time."
Albert Lea botched its inbounds play, and Ryan Boldt went to the line, going 2-for-2. In a last-ditch effort, the Tigers couldn't corral the ball for a last-second shot as the Wingers escaped the trap game with a 59-56 Section 1AAA quarterfinal victory at Red Wing High School.
Bryant finished with just three points, but his clutch free throws are what sent the Wingers into a section quarterfinals matchup against Missota Conference foe New Prague at 7p.m. Saturday at New Prague. The second-seeded Trojans advanced with a 71-56 win over No. 7 Faribault.
"There's probably no more pressure on any free-throw shooter in the world to be in that situation where if he misses, the season is over, you got all your friends and family here watching and Luke stepped up," Toivonen said. "I got to give him a lot of credit. To have enough confidence to step up when it counted was big."
Sophomore guard Ty Buck added, "Luke's been shooting well at the free-throw line all year. I was just hoping he would step up as a senior captain and that's what he did."
With both teams getting off to a slow start, Red Wing led by as much as six points in the first half before Albert Lea tied the game at 29-29 as Goding Wall banked in a jumper with 55 seconds left. But Red Wing went into the locker room with a boost when Isaac Toivonen scored a layup with four seconds left, giving Red Wing a 31-29 halftime lead.
The Wingers (14-13) retook a six-point lead thanks to consecutive buckets in the paint by Jack Leurquin and Ben Miller. From there, Albert Lea locked down the paint, and See-Rockers carried the Tigers on his back.
Finishing with a game-high 21 points on 7 of 10 shooting, See-Rockers finished with 13 second-half points, including the 3-pointer that nearly ended the Wingers' season.
"I thought he hit a tough three there," Doug Toivonen said of See-Rockers. "Coming off a screen, kind of a fadeaway 3-pointer with a hand in his face ... give him credit; he hit a big shot at a big time.
As Albert Lea collapsed its defense in the paint, Red Wing's outside shooters were able to open up the floor with four second-half 3-pointers. Buck was a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc, scoring a team-high 14 points. He also had five assists in the Wingers' victory.
"We hit some threes to keep ourselves in there," Doug Toivonen said. "We made some poor choices and turned the ball over too many times, but you have to give them credit because they were good defensively."
Red Wing held the lead until See-Rockers converted on a 3-point play to make it 53-53 with a minute remaining. Isaac Toivonen hit a layup with 34 seconds left before See-Rockers drilled the potential game-winner with 13 seconds left.
"That guy came down and hit a tough three right away," Bryant said. "We contested him pretty good."
Once Bryant hit his clutch free throws, it was down to the Wingers' defense. On the inbounds, the Tigers tossed the ball out of bounds, allowing Boldt to pad Red Wing's lead with 1.2 seconds left.
"We just wanted to put a guy on the ball and make it tough for the inbounds pass," Doug Toivonen said. "We talked to our guys about making sure they caught the ball in front of us so that if they were going to take a shot, it'd be something over the top and not something where they're running to the basket."
On the final possession, the pressure was still mounting for Red Wing as Albert Lea (12-14) tried to get the ball to See-Rocker. But he was never able to get off a shot.
"I just had this feeling that they were going to come down and hit a shot," Buck said. "But the way we pulled it off, I'm just happy to get a win, no matter what it takes."
Boldt had 11 points, and Jon Sevlie added 10 points and a pair of steals for the Wingers. Isaac Toivonen dropped nine points, and Jack Leurquin chipped in with eight points and six rebounds.