Trailing in the second half, Eau Claire Regis was forced to foul with hopes of somebody missing.
But it just didn’t happen.
All the Ramblers could do is stand and watch as Durand, shooting nearly perfect under thick pressure, cashed in on 27 of 29 tosses in the last half. The Panthers refused to give Regis a chance.
So you can forget about that 17-point Regis win over Durand in January as the Panthers got their revenge in a 69-59 win Saturday night in a WIAA Division 4 regional final at the Greenhouse.
“This is really big and gives us a lot of confidence,” said Panthers guard Ely Bauer, who hit three 3-pointers. “Now we have to keep stepping it up. We’ve got two more games to go before state.”
Durand will take a 20-4 record into Wednesday’s sectional semifinal at Altoona against Melrose-Mindoro, which ousted Osseo-Fairchild on Saturday.
The loss was a crusher for Regis, which seemed to be under a head of late-season steam with a long shot at a state berth. The Ramblers led 30-22 at halftime and seemed on the way to repeating the convincing 69-52 win earlier.
“Give Durand credit,” Regis coach Bill Uelmen said. “We had to foul and they made their free throws, and that was the difference in the game.”
Regis led by 10 at 37-27 following a Trenton Cronk lay-in with 14 minutes, 20 seconds to play. But the lead wouldn’t last as the Panthers came storming back.
Durand had a lot of heroes and Tyler Tulip was one of them. The 5-foot-11 junior hit back-to-back 3s that earned a 39-38 lead. Cade Osborn tied it with a free throw, but the Panthers answered with two free throws by Riley Radle and an Isaiah Whitwam basket and never trailed again.
“It was uncharacteristic of our team, but we just didn’t look comfortable offensively,” Uelmen said. “We had the lead and then we just couldn’t buy a basket. So we couldn’t stop their run.”
Durand coach Justin Redetzke said he has had a good free-throw shooting team all year and is marked with balance and the ability to come from behind.
“I always say I’ve got eight starters on my team,” he said. “We’ve had eight different players lead us in scoring. It’s been a real team effort.”
Leading 48-40 with just over four minutes to play, the Panthers went to the line to make 21 of 22 free throw attempts and that ruined Regis’ chances of regaining the lead.
Another Panthers hero was Christian O’Keefe, a 5-foot-9 junior who came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer and then went to the line to coolly swish 10 straight free throws. Kobe Humphrey chipped in with eight in nine tries, also all in the second half.
For the game, the Dunn-St. Croix Conference champions made a phenomenal 31 of their 33 free throw attempts, a testimony to their mental strength with the game on the line.
Riley Radle led Durand with 15 points, while O’Keefe and Tulip followed with 13 each.
Another key to the outcome was the Panthers’ defensive work on Ramblers sharpshooter Keelin Norman-Klatt.
The high-scoring senior guard scored 20 points in the first half and was mainly responsible for the eight-point halftime lead.
In the second half, he was limited to just one basket — a 3-pointer with just over a minute to play — and three free throws and wound up with 26 points.
“We didn’t change a lot at halftime,” Redetzke said. “We just tried to pick him up earlier, take away the lane so he wasn’t getting in so deep.”
Carter Brown stepped up for the Ramblers, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half but couldn’t get enough support.
Uelmen said he was proud of his team’s effort.
“This team came as far as any I’ve had in 37 years,” he said.