Basketball games in the month of March have a tendency to be decided at the free throw line. Monday's Sub-section final clash between United South Central and Hayfield was no exception.
The Rebels approached the line eight times in the final two minutes, made half of them, and survived with a 43-39 triumph against the Vikings.
Trey Allis hit one pressure-packed free throw and Kyle Bauman hit three to ensure another Rebel appearance at Minnesota State's Bresnan Arena.
Coleman Bushlack goes up for a layup against Hayfield in the Sub-section final.
For a majority of Monday's game, however, the chances looked grim USC would be given that opportunity.
Points were hard to come by all night and Hayfield established a 14-13 lead at halftime.
USC shook off poor shooting in the first half with a six point run to start the second, establishing a 22-19 advantage.
Hayfield had an answer, hitting back-to-back threes and two layups to give the Vikings a 35-28 lead with 6:50 to play.
For the second game in a row, the Rebels faced a large deficit late in the game. Repeating the same formula for success employed against Maple River, USC went on an 11-2 run to establish a 39-37 lead with two minutes to play.
"Defensively, holding them down and not letting them score was a key to the run," head coach Robert Stevermer says. "On offense, I thought we moved the ball better and we found guys when they were open in a position to score."
The game-changing point swing was capped by a Cole Stencel 3-pointer. It was the Rebels first and only trey of the game, but Stencel picked a good time to connect.
"Cole was open at the top of the key," Stevermer says. "He was confident and stuck that open shot."
During the run, USC also rebounded the ball well for some easy baskets down low.
"Offensive rebounding was big," Stevermer says. "Coleman Bushlack had two putbacks and Kyle Bauman had an offensive board and a putback."
Over the course of the game, USC out-rebounded Hayfield 42-22, firmly establishing their prowess in the paint.
"In the second half we rebounded the ball really well," Stevermer says. "We talked at halftime about how important it was to rebound the basketball and that we needed to do a better job. In the second half the boys went out and did that."
Bauman led the Rebels with 17 points and eight rebounds. Bushlack complimented his teammate with seven points and 10 rebounds.
USC played St. Peter Friday after the Register's deadline in the Section final. The Rebels were looking to avenge a 72-56 loss suffered to the Saints earlier in the year.
Entering the game, St. Peter was 27-1 overall and USC was 24-5.
"We have to hang around and keep it close," Stevermer says. "They are very explosive and have the ability to score points in bunches. We are going to have to get back on defense and stop them in transition."