In a possible Section 3A-South finals preview, Saturday afternoon's regular season game between the Southwest Minnesota Christian Eagles and Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Knights had a playoff feel with two of the top 10 Class A boys' basketball teams locked in a fierce battle.
Clutch shots were plentiful inside the R/A Facility in Marshall, but it was the fourth-ranked Eagles who had one more big shot in them as they pulled out an 80-78 overtime victory over the ninth-ranked Knights.
RTR junior guard Brett Peterson scored all seven of his team's points in overtime after helping to force the extra frame with big baskets late in regulation. But SWC senior guard Dominic Nibbelink scored the decisive points in overtime, making a floater on a baseline drive with just over 10 seconds left. The Knights were unable to get off a good shot in the waning seconds and SWC held on for the win.
The two teams met last year in the sub-section semifinals, with SWC winning 75-53 and eventually finishing as the runner-up at the state tournament. Eagles head coach Jamie Pap was expecting a close contest in Saturday's rematch, and that's exactly what he and his squad got.
"It was a big game," Pap said. "RTR did a great job. We had knocked them out last year in the tournament so I knew coming in they were really going to want this one. (RTR head coach) Ted (Kern) had his guys ready to go and they played extremely hard. It was a battle and it could have gone either way."
Nibbelink finished with 22 points to lead the Eagles, who move to 7-1 overall. Forward Eric Talsma added 18 points and nine rebounds before fouling out early on in overtime, and junior center Leighton Sampson chipped in 16 points. Guard Klint Knutson also reached double figures, scoring 12 points before fouling out late in regulation.
Clayton Huisken 2 2-2 7, Nate Pfeifle 1 2-2 4, Klint Knutson 2 6-6 12, Dominic Nibbelink 9 3-5 22, Gabe Vander Veen 0 1-2 1, Eric Talsma 8 2-2 18, Leighton Sampson 5 6-11 16. Totals 27 22-30 80. 3-pointers 4 Rebounds 26 (Talsma 9) Assists 17 (Nibbelink 6) BLocks 6 (Sampson 4) Steals 16 Turnovers 10 Fouls 22.
Brett Peterson 10 5-6 28, Brett Knudsen 1 0-0 3, Newt Dunblazier 4 1-1 9, Dylan Kor 4 4-4 12, Shay Wabeke 4 3-6 13, Brett Vercruysse 6 0-4 13. 3-pointers 7 (Peterson 3, Wabeke 2) Rebounds 31 (Kor 9, Vercuysse 8, Peterson 6) Assists 10 (Kor 5, Peterson 4) Steals 5 Turnovers 19 Fouls 20.
Halftime Score: SWC 36, RTR 35.
RTR (8-1 overall) got a game-high 28 points from Peterson, who also had six rebounds and four assists. Shay Wabeke and Brett Vercruysse each scored 13 for RTR, and Dylan Kor added 12 points and nine rebounds before fouling out in the final six minutes of regulation.
SWC built a seven-point lead in the first half and went into the locker room up 36-35. RTR then jumped out to a 54-45 lead in the second half before the Eagles came clawing back and eventually retook the lead.
Peterson hit some huge shots down the stretch to keep the Knights within range. Down three with about 24 seconds left, he drilled a 3-pointer and drew a foul, completing a four-point play to put his team up 70-69.
After an SWC turnover, Knutson picked up his fifth foul trying to deny Wabeke an inbounds pass on the ensuing RTR possession with about eight seconds left. Wabeke made the first free throw and missed the second, Nibbelink got the rebound and dribbled down the court through the lane. As the defense collapsed he kicked out a pass to Sampson, who knocked down a shot left of the elbow to tie the game moments before the buzzer sounded.
Peterson added seven points in overtime, including a three-point play, but it wasn't quite enough to lift his team to the win.
"Peterson played great. When they needed a bucket he hit one," Pap said. "He had that 3 and then the foul, and that was a huge play. You expect seniors to take those shots, but for Peterson as a junior, I know he's been playing a while, but that was a big shot for him."