FL erases 16-point deficit in final minutes
Down by 16 with less than four minutes left against Big Lake Monday night, the Ranger boys’ basketball team was staring square into the face of a five-game losing streak and a 6-12 record.
Out of nowhere, Forest Lake rattled off 14 consecutive points on its way to stunning the Hornets 75-73. In a season full of lost leads and near misses, the team now hopes the improbable flurry is a turning point.
“We just kept fighting through,” said senior guard Tyler Rosenberger. “Shots weren’t hitting but we just stuck with the plan and kept on plugging away…It’s really going to boost our morale.”
After letting a modest lead slip away in the final minute of the first half, the Rangers fell further and further behind as the second half went along. Big Lake senior Justin Benker put an exclamation point on a Hornet run and gave his team its biggest lead of the night at 67-51 with a steal and breakaway slam dunk with 4:10 remaining.
Dusty Boyer hit his fourth three-pointer of the night on the ensuing Ranger possession, but it hardly felt like an epic comeback was in the offing. But Rosenberger got a friendly roll on a three-pointer on the next possession, and Anthony Tyler stole the inbounds and made a layup. Suddenly the Rangers were down by just eight with 2:47 still on the clock.
The rally continued after a Big Lake timeout. Off another steal, Noah Davis got another friendly bounce on a three-pointer. With just over two minutes left, Rosenberger connected from deep again, pulling Forest Lake within a bucket at 67-65.
A pair of free throws from Benker finally ended the run, and it gave the visitors a 69-65 lead with 1:55 to go.
Boyer, though, responded with another trey, and Tyler again stole the inbounds and scored. Forest Lake’s first lead of the half was short-lived, though, as Big Lake answered with a score to go ahead 71-70. With the clock ticking under a minute, Davis got the ball at the top of the arc on a pick-and-roll, dribbled to his left and swished a long, go-ahead two-pointer.
A Hornet turnover and two free throws from Hunter Smith gave Forest Lake a 74-71 advantage with 14.1 seconds left.
Up three, Forest Lake chose to play straight-up defense, but accidentally fouled Benker with 4.8 to go. He made both free throws and Big Lake fouled with 3.9 remaining.
After making one free throw, Smith missed the second, but the Rangers got the offensive rebound and ran the final seconds off the clock.
The irony of the wild win is that Forest Lake has struggled all year to hold on to leads. Finally, the shoe was on the other foot.
“We’ve been there many times this year where we’ve had trouble closing out games,” coach Dan Cremisino said. “You have to have a little bit of luck [to rally]. You get a three, you get another three, you get a steal. All of a sudden you believe you can come back and you look at the clock and there’s still two minutes left and you’re only down by one.”
The game seemed an even match in the first half as the lead never eclipsed four in either direction. Forest Lake led 32-30 with less than a minute to go, but Big Lake converted a three-point play with 28 seconds left and hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to pull ahead 36-32.
With the score tied at 45, the Hornets went on a 22-6 run that climaxed with Benker’s dunk.
Benker led Big Lake with 19 points. Davis had 26 for the Rangers, and Rosenberger added 20. Boyer’s 15 points all came from beyond the arc.
The win could not have come at a better time, considering last week’s results. Forest Lake fell 71-49 at Cretin-Derham Hall on Friday and 72-46 at home against No. 10 Roseville on Tuesday.
In the first game, conference-leading Roseville jumped out early and never looked back.
“They pretty much ran by us,” Cremisino said. “They sped us up, we couldn’t keep up. They’re playing really well.”
Davis carried the load offensively with 27 points.
The Rangers may have hung with Cretin-Derham Hall longer but could not connect from the field. Davis and Rosenberger scored 18 and 16 points, respectively, but each shot just 6-20.
No one else scored more than five points in either game.
The Rangers stay at home with games against Park and Duluth East on Friday and Saturday. A road trip to East Ridge is set for next Tuesday.