By Denny Weller Special to The Free Press
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — The United South Central boys basketball team has been comfortable playing from behind all season long.
Friday night at Bresnan Arena, the Rebels ran out of late-game heroics and dropped a hard-fought 69-61 decision to Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City in the Section 2A championship game.
“This is a group that doesn’t get real rattled,” USC coach Robert Stevermer said. “We’ve had games where we’ve been down double digits in the second half and they just don’t lose their composure.
“It was the kind of game you expected where both teams came out and played extremely hard. We gave up a little too much inside and they really stepped up and played an outstanding second half.”
USC (23-5) converted 12 of 13 foul shots on its way to taking a 34-31 halftime lead. Junior forward Riley Kloos tallied 10 of his 14 points to pace the Rebels while junior guard Nate Pederson put through eight of his team-best 18 points. Sophomore Grant Becher’s three-point play put the Rebels in front 32-25 before sophomore post Colton Minnick’s inside hoop and free throw helped ACGC gain some momentum.
After Kloos’ three-point play off a three-shot flurry gave USC a 37-31 advantage, 6-foot-4 freshman Gabriel Eisenbacher’s putback triggered a 14-2 surge. The rally produced a 45-39 Falcons’ lead on senior forward David Kinzler’s left baseline 3-pointer with 13:19 to go.
Pederson’s three-point play off a down-the-lane drive made it 45-42 before Minnick’s strong inside move and Kinzler’s transition drive put ACGC ahead 49-42.
“I think the difference was our inside game,” Falcons’ coach Terry Miller said. “Our shots weren’t going down in the second half so we started playing through Colton Minnick and he was a beast down there.
That huge shot came after Grant Becher’s top-of-the-key 3-pointer ended a miserable 3-point shooting performance and pulled the Rebels within 57-54 with 3:21 left. Senior guard Taylor Larson, who led the Falcons with 21 points, nailed a left-side 3-pointer and finished off a layup to push the margin to 62-54.
USC, which ended up 3 of 25 from beyond the arc, made one last charge to close within 62-59 on Trio’s 3-pointer and Pederson’s driving basket off a turnover. However, two foul shots each from Brody Larson and Taylor Larson in the final minute ended the Rebels’ bid for their first state tournament appearance.
Minnick finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds while Kinzler and Brody Larson scored 11 points apiece.
“We really attacked the basket in the first half but for some reason we kind of let up in the second half,” Kloos said. “We started to make a run at the end but we just couldn’t pull through.”
USC, which played without injured senior post Steve Voigt, connected on just 20 of 64 from the field for 31.2 percent compared to the Falcons’ 21 of 50 for 42 percent. ACGC (21-7) held a slight 38-37 rebounding edge and both team committed 13 turnovers. The Falcons made 22 of 31 foul shots and USC drained 17 of 19.
“We thought we had it down the stretch but we had some possessions where we turned it over,” Pederson said. “We took some quick shots instead of looking to move it and get better shots.”