Shorthanded Eau Claire Memorial made it interesting for River Falls. Almost too interesting.
But two free throws by Zac Johnson with 10 seconds to play and his block of Mekhi Shaw’s desperation 3-point attempt at the buzzer gave River Falls a 71-70 Big Rivers Conference win in a thriller Thursday night at the Eagles Nest.
That came about 25 seconds after a 3-point basket by Ethan Van Grunsven had given the Old Abes a one-point lead that looked like a golden opportunity for an upset victory.
“Our guys played with a lot of heart and I was proud how hard they played,” said Memorial Coach Chad Brieske. “The guys stepped it up as a whole.”
Memorial (7-13, 4-7) played inspired ball without top scorer Caden Boser, who is out two games, and considering the fact that they were beaten 79-59 earlier at River Falls.
“Sometimes a team will rally together when they lose a player like Boser,” River Falls Coach Zac Campbell said. “Memorial played with a lot of fight tonight.”
But the bottom line showed a win for Rivers Falls’ contending Wildcats.
“We’ve still got a shot at the title,” Campbell said. “We need help but we’re still in it.”
River Falls (15-5, 7-3) nursed slim leads down the stretch and led 68-62 on a Mike Johnson basket with 1:13 to go but a Tanner Linduski 3-pointer and a followup drive in by Shaw cut the lead to 68-67 with 48 seconds left.
A free throw by Mike Johnson moments later made it 69-67 but Van Grunsven unloaded his clutch 3-pointer with 38 seconds left and the Abes were on top with the crowd howling. But that’s when the Wildcats Zac Johnson came through.
“We figured they would run something through him,” Brieske said. “(Altherelle) Robbins was on him but there was too much contact at 17 feet and the foul was called.”
Memorial tried desperately to get off a would-be winning shot, but the River Falls defense would not allow it.
“We figured they would look for Van Grunsven, Shaw or Linduski,” Zac Johnson said. “I just went out and tried to make a play for the team.”
Campbell said Johnson’s growth since his freshman year has been remarkable.
Zac Johnson finished with 19 points but the leader in points was Mike Johnson, who made eight of nine field attempts and scored 21. Liam Dougherty added 14.
Memorial got a super effort out of its backcourt duo of Shaw and Robbins, who combined for 38 points, Shaw hitting three 3-pointers and finishing with 23. Linduski wound up with 15.
“Shaw and Robbins just gave us fits,” Campbell said.
River Falls led by as much as 15 points in the first half before Memorial rallied to cut it to two at halftime with a late rush capped by 3-pointers by Will Boser and Shaw. The Abes closed within one on several second half occasions but the Wildcats always had an answer.
“There are moments a team can build off of and this was one of them,’’ Brieske said. “We played great team basketball.
RIVER FALLS 71, MEMORIAL 70
River Falls – FG FT TP – Mike Johnson 8-9 5-7 21, Payton Flood 2-6 0-2 6, JT Dougherty 1-8 0-0 2, Zac Johnson 7-14 2-2 19, Liam Dougherty 6-8 2-2 14, Michael Tiffany 1-1 1-4 3, Ragan Pinnow 2-4 0-0 6, Michael Schurman 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 27-52 10-17 71.
Memorial — Tanner Linduski 6-13 1-1 16, Ethan Van Grunsven 3-6 0-0 8, Mekhi Shaw 9-17 2-2 23, Altherelle Robbins 5-11 5-8 15, Will Boser 3-6 0-0 8, Devin Butler 0-1 0-0 0, Grant Gerber 0-0 0-0 0, Nolan Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Landen Van Grunsven 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-54 8-11 70.
Halftime: River Falls 44-42. 3-point goals: RF 7-24 (Z. Johnson 3-9, Pinnow 2-4, Flood 2-6. JT Dougherty 0-3, L Dougherty 0-1, Schurman 0-1). ECM 10-18 (Linduski 3-7, Shaw 3-4, E. Van Grunsven 2-2, W. Boser 2-4, Robbins 0-1). Rebounds: RF 33 (L. Dougherty 7, M. Johnson 6, Tiffany 5), ECM 31 (Shaw 8). Fouls: RF 14, ECM 20. Turnovers: River Falls 12, Memorial 10. Officials: Casey Eckardt, Nick Weisenbeck, Tyler Schroyer.