Cole Rabedeaux had a look he was confident in.
But his shot, and the hopes of a UW-Eau Claire comeback that rode with it, clanked around the rim and out.
With the Blugolds trailing UW-River Falls 65-62 with nine seconds left, Matt Keller missed a free throw for the Falcons. Rabedeaux grabbed the rebound and bolted up the court.
After a series of passes returned the ball to his hands, the junior pulled up from just beyond the 3-point line on the left wing between two Falcons defenders and launched a shot that had the right distance.
The aim was off just a hair though.
The shot rattled around the rim and fell out, and River Falls survived with a 66-62 win on Wednesday at Zorn Arena.
“It felt good coming off the hands, looked good in the air,” Rabedeaux — who led Eau Claire with 18 points — said of his final heave. “Just (took) a roundabout in the rim. I thought it was going in. It was a good look, just couldn’t knock it down.”
The Blugolds were looking to rally from a 14-point deficit to stretch their win streak to five and all but assure themselves of a home game in the WIAC tournament.
But Eau Claire, usually solid from 3-point territory, shot 24 percent from beyond the arc. The Blugolds slipped into the wrong end of a 17-4 run in the second half and had to play catch-up the rest of the way.
“Any time shots aren’t falling it makes it really, really difficult to score enough points to win,” Eau Claire coach Matt Siverling said. “I thought we held our own on the defensive side. ... But unfortunately when things don’t go well on the offensive end you’ve really got to get it done on the defensive end.
“We just didn’t get it done enough tonight.”
With the loss, Eau Claire is in fourth place in the WIAC standings entering Saturday’s regular season finale against UW-Oshkosh, the WIAC regular season champion.
The conference’s third and fourth-placed teams get to host a WIAC tournament game.
Eau Claire and UW-Platteville both have 7-6 records in league play. Platteville faces UW-Stevens Point (8-5) on Saturday while the Blugolds look to knock off Oshkosh.
“We competed with them in the first half at Oshkosh,” Rabedeaux said. “Down three points at halftime, so we know we can play with them.”
In Wednesday’s loss, the Blugolds held a 38-35 lead early in the second half. But they went cold, and River Falls capitalized on plenty of looks inside to 17 of the game’s next 21 points.
“They were aggressive (defensively) on the perimeter, forcing us to make maybe not as crisp of passes as we usually make,” Siverling said. “There was a variety of different things. We were off a little bit, and their defense probably had a little bit to do with that.”
The Falcons led 58-44 with 5:40 left, but Eau Claire hit three 3-pointers in the next three minutes as part of an 11-2 run to cut the lead to five.
The comeback just didn’t have enough steam in the end.
The two teams traded baskets for much of the first half, with nine lead changes coming in the first 20 minutes of the game. Most of the Falcons’ damage came from forward Julian Jackson, their leading scorer. He poured in 11 points before halftime, well ahead of his average of 15 per night. He finished with a game-high 27 points.
“He’s a mismatch for everybody in the league. The guy’s having a phenomenal year,” Siverling said of Jackson.
The Blugolds, who shot the ball well from 3-point land during their four-game winning streak, made just two of their 15 attempts from deep in the first half.
But Eau Claire overcame the cold start from beyond the arc by working the ball inside, something not generally used in their arsenal on offense. The Blugolds tallied 12 points in the paint in the opening half, managing to force their way into the lane with the dribble-drive and off-the-ball cuts.
“We knew that we were going to be in situations where we’d have close-outs and could attack it, get in the paint, and make finishes,” Rabedeaux said. “We made that happen. If we shot differently from the 3-point line, that’s a whole different game.”
UW-River Falls 66, UW-Eau Claire 62
River Falls (11-13, 4-9): Matt Keller 4, Austin Heidecker 13, Julian Jackson 27, Jack Stensgard 7, Jalen Greenlee 2, Noah Hanson 4, Austin Werdin 3, Nathan Macho Jr. 2, Alex Ohde 4.
Eau Claire (14-10, 7-6): Steve Christiansen 6, Ben Widdes 13, Cole Rabedeaux 18, Wilyam Wright 5, Spencer Page 7, Sean Miller 9, Blake Wacholz 2, Ethan Weaver 2.
3-pointers: River Falls 5 (Keller, Heidecker, Stensgard, Hanson, Werdin), Eau Claire 6 (Rabedeaux 2, Widdes, Wright, Page, Miller).
Halftime score: Eau Claire 26-25.