Boys basketball: Worthington beats MACCRAY in third-place tournament game
WORTHINGTON -- Sparked by the dominant inside play of posts Mitch Weg and Morgan Traylor Wednesday night, the Worthington Trojans built a 44-34 halftime lead over the MACCRAY Wolverines and then stretched the margin to 62-43 with 11:33 remaining in the second half of the third-place game of the 14th Annual Daily Globe-Trojan Holiday Classic boys' basketball tournament at Worthington High School.
MACCRAY, though, stormed back to turn an apparent lopsided affair into an exciting finish -- pulling to within one point (78-77) with seven seconds remaining -- behind a sparkling 19-point, secondhalf performance from Riley Aeikens.
But Worthington's Marcus Potter sank a pair of free throws with 0.9 seconds to go, sealing a key 80-77 victory for the Trojans -- who snapped a threegame losing streak to close out their own holiday tournament.
"This was a good win for us and one that we really wanted to get," Worthington head coach Ron Vorwald said after the game. "We had a great crowd onhand on both nights of the tournament, with four good teams in town. It was important for us to play better and come out of here with at least one win on our home floor, and we were able to do that against a team that can really score."
Weg (three assists) and Traylor each scored 17 points in the first half, getting good position inside and receiving several nice passes from teammates Jon Vorwald (seven assists), Dan Wetering (six points, six assists) and Lucas Henning (three assists).
Weg finished with 30 points and 17 rebounds for yet another double-double, while Traylor (five rebounds) scored a careerhigh 28 points for Worthington. Henning was also in double figures with 10 points, drilling two 3-pointers and hitting all four of his free-throw attempts.
"Mitch and Morgan were both outstanding tonight, playing aggressively and finishing well around the rim," Ron Vorwald said. "Lucas also played well and did a nice job defensively on No. 10 for MACCRAY (Corey Abbas), holding him to seven points a night after he scored 27 points against Ellsworth."
Aeikens (six rebounds) poured in a game-high 32 points for the Wolverines, including eight straight in the final 1:24 to pull MACCRAY within three (74-71), two (76-74) and one (78-77) after a driving basket and two left-wing 3-pointers, respectively.
"That is the best game that Riley has played all year," MACCRAY head coach Gary Nelson said. "He played with a lot of heart and was determined to help bring us back into contention. I'm really happy with our team's desire to stick with it and continue to play hard even when things were not looking too good for us."
In addition to Aeikens and Abbas (seven points, six assists), the Wolverines also received key contributions from Taylor Thissen (14 points, two steals), Bailey Boike (10 points, five assists), Carter Asche (eight points) and Brady Boike (six points).
Worthington went up 48-37 by the 15:31 mark of the second half, as Henning and Wetering each found Traylor inside for a hoop against MACCRAY's 1-2-2 zone defensive look. The Wolverines had played man-to-man defense in the first half.
After Brady Boike scored on a spin move in the lowpost area, Wetering (left wing) and Henning (right wing) hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Trojans took a 54-39 lead. Traylor then came up with a steal at midcourt and went in for a layup -- putting Worthington ahead 56-39 and prompting a MACCRAY timeout with 14:03 on the clock.
"We needed to try something different defensively, as we switched to the zone and also started to apply some full-court pressure," Nelson said. "I think the change worked a little bit in our favor later on, as we got a few more stops and were able to score in transition the way that we are capable of."
Worthington's largest lead was 62-43 at the 11:33 mark, as Weg (Vorwald assist) and Traylor (putback) each scored in the paint to keep the Trojans comfortably out in front.
But MACCRAY answered with a 9-0 surge to make it 62-52. Two free throws by Aeikens started the run, while a deep 3-pointer from the left corner by Thissen capped it with 8:56 to play.
Asche scored twice inbetween -- once on an offensive-rebound chance and once to finish a Wolverines' fast break (Aeikens and Abbas with lead passes) -- as MACCRAY was beginning to rally.
Weg got Worthington back on the board with a 15-footer at the 7:24 mark and added two more baskets and a free throw to help the Trojans maintain leads of 64-52, 66-54, 67-54 and 69-56 over the next two minutes.
Worthington was still up by 13 (71-58) after Henning meshed two free throws at the 5:01 mark, but a 7-0 spurt by MACCRAY followed -- trimming the gap to six (71-65) with 3:01 showing. A 15-footer along the left baseline by Asche, a layup off a steal by Thissen and a 3-pointer in the left corner by Abbas helped further tilt the momentum toward the Wolverines.
Two more free throws by Henning made it 73-65 with 2:55 left, but baskets by Aeikens and Thissen cut it to 73-69 just 39 seconds later.
The barrage continued when, after Traylor sank a free throw to make it 74-69, Aeikens drove to the hoop to bring the Wolverines within one possession -- trailing 74-71 with 1:24 showing.
Two free throws by Weg (8-for-11 at the line) were then countered by a 3-point swisher from Aeikens, as MACCRAY called its final timeout down by just two (76-74) with 58.1 seconds left.
Weg connected on one of two free throws on two separate occasions and also pulled down a key defensive rebound in the next 30 seconds, as Worthington led 78-74 going down to the wire.
Aeikens then came out of a wild, loose-ball scramble on MACCRAY's final possession and buried a clutch 3-pointer from the left wing with seven seconds to go, trimming the gap to one (78-77).
Potter was then fouled and calmly dropped in two free throws with 0.9 seconds left, as Worthington hung on to secure an 80-77 victory.
"Marcus hit two big free throws there, and we did enough good things down the stretch to win the ballgame," Ron Vorwald said. "Our guys played hard, and our seniors played like seniors. I'm proud of the way we played and were able to close it out after MACCRAY got hot."
Worthington (4-3) will host Pipestone Area Tuesday in a Southwest Conference game, while MACCRAY (5-3) travels to Cottonwood to take on Lakeview in a Camden Conference matchup the same night.
MACCRAY 34 43 -- 77
Worthington 44 36 -- 80
MHS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Abbas 1-2-0-7, Aeikens 3-9-5-32, Br. Boike 0-3-0-6, Asche 0-4-0-8, Thissen 2-3-2-14, Ba. Boike 0-5-0-10. Totals: 6-26-7-77.
WHS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP): Henning 2-0-4-10, Potter 0-0-2-2, Wetering 2-0-0-6, Traylor 0-12-4-28, Grafing 0-1-0-2, Weg 0-11-8-30, Reller 0-0-2-2. Totals: 4-24-20-80.
Lucas Knutson is a sports writer for the Worthington Daily Globe.