Jackets, Hunters use all 36 minutes to decide the winner
HIBBING — The Hibbing High School boy's basketball team was tested during the semifinals of the North Star State Harwood Tournament.
The Bluejackets went down to the wire with the Duluth Denfeld Hunters Wednesday night at the Lincoln Elementary School gymnasium.
As time expired, Denfeld put up a buzzer-beating shot to win the game. The attempt failed to drop, and Hibbing escaped with a 79-77 win.
The Bluejackets scored the first points of the game, but Denfeld quickly took the lead, and Hibbing had to try and claw its way back.
Denfeld hadn't had the strongest start to its year, but Hibbing coach Joel McDonald knew that wouldn't mean much.
"On paper, a lot of people didn't expect Denfeld to do much because of the way they started the year," McDonald said. "But anybody who was paying attention to how they played last night (Tuesday's first-round win over Red Lake) knew they were going to come at us tonight."
"I give Phil (Denfeld head coach Phillip Homere) a lot of credit for having a great game plan. I think it took us a long time to respond to it."
With 6:30 left in the first half, the Bluejackets trailed 18-24 but brought it back to square. Zach Rusich, Carson Brown and Ayden McDonald scored on consecutive possessions to bring the game to 24-24.
Right before halftime, Dane Mammenga knocked down a three to put Hibbing ahead 35-33.
"That was important," McDonald said. "We were down the entire first half. We were up 2-0 then we didn't have a lead after that."
The second half would eventually be the same battle as the first half.
However, the start of the half saw Hibbing build a sizable lead.
McDonald got a steal on Denfeld's initial possession, leading to an easy basket. Mammenga, Rusich, and Jacob Jensrud also added baskets until Hibbing found itself leading 58-43.
But, the Hunters didn't have their sights set on going away quietly.
Denfeld slashed the Hibbing lead to eight points after Dane Dzuck and MarNaries Ferguson made three-straight baskets.
Hibbing's lead continued slowly shrinking until Cameron Oliphant went to the free-throw line with Denfeld trailing 68-70 with four minutes left.
Oliphant only made one free throw, but Denfeld only trailed by one point.
That's when the Bluejacket defense made its most defiant stand of the night.
Hibbing forced Denfeld into three turnovers that led to easy-transition baskets capped off with McDonald converting an and-one opportunity to put Hibbing back up 77-69.
"Those were all really big because we weren't hitting from outside today," McDonald said.
Denfeld mounted one final charge to steal away the win.
With less than 30 seconds remaining, Denfeld got the ball trailing 77-79. Hibbing's defense was in the right spots and forced Denfeld to call a timeout with 15.5 left.
After the timeout, Denfeld held the ball outside the arc until there was only time for one shot.
As time expired, Gavin Bulthias got the ball at the top of the three-point line and released the shot.
"We made him attempt a tough shot," McDonald said.
In end-of-game moments, that is all a defense can try to do.
"That isn't a situation where you can prevent a shot. Something is going up at some point in time."
The shot was on target but fell short, and Hibbing won 79-77.
McDonald led Hibbing in scoring with 29. Rusich finished with 14, Brown added 12, and Mammenga and Jensrud had 10 points.
Denfled's leading score was Ferguson, with 24 points. Dzuck also scored 20, and Oliphant compiled 13 points.
DD 33 44 — 77
HHS 35 44 — 79
Duluth Denfeld: MarNaries Ferguson 24, Dane Dzuck 20, Cameron Oliphant 13, Gavin Bulthias 6, Carter Kilroy 6, Finnley Powell 6, Skyler Fossum 2.
Hibbing: Ayden McDonald 29, Zach Rusich 14, Carson Brown 12, Dane Mammenga 10, Jacob Jensrud 10, Finley Cary 2, Alex Chacich 2.
Total Fouls: Denfeld 17; Hibbing 13; Fouled Out: None; Free-Throws: Denfeld 4-6; Hibbing 13-17; Three-pointers: Jensrud 2, Mammenga, Rusich, Ferguson 5, Kilroy 2, Powell 2.