ST. CLOUD -- What could have been a blowout turned into an exciting challenge as New London-Spicer had to hold off a determined Morris Area team for the Section 6AA boys basketball title Friday at St. Cloud State University.
The Wildcats, who are the defending state Class AA champions, will get to defend their title after toppling the Tigers 82-75. They will face Pelican Rapids at 6 p.m. Wednesday in state quarterfinals at Williams Arena.
The Wildcats kept doing just enough in the second half each time Morris would make a run at cutting down a 50-28 halftime deficit. The Tigers got as close as eight with about three minutes left, but NLS forced Morris to foul and then made its free throws down the stretch. NLS went 12 of 16 from the foul line in the last three minutes.
"(Morris) just outworked us (in the second half)," said NLS coach Matt Cordes. "They put a lot of pressure on us and turned us over. We just held of for dear life."
"We finally caught our breath. We got the ball in our ballhandlers' hands. We were able to get some dribble penetration and some easy buckets."
"We definitely came out to the second half hot-headed. We thought it was in the bag," said New London-Spicer senior Jay Moten.
The Wildcats dominated the first half with their speed and three-point shooting. NLS kept forcing the issue by picking up the tempo and getting easy layups, or by getting the ball to their three-point shooters.
NLS was 6-for-10 from three-point range and shot 57 percent (17 of 30) from the floor. Jay Moten and Aaron Jenny sank two treys each.
Morris struggled from the floor, trying at times to match the pace set by the Wildcats. The Tigers shot only 33 percent (9 of 27) from the field and missed all five 3-point attempts.
The Tigers got back to what brought them to Halenbeck Hall in the first place -- solid defense, a patient offense and the ability to get points in the paint from the post and from driving to the basket -- to get back into the game in the second half.
Lincoln Arnold scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and Jackson Henrich had 10 of his team-high 23. Cory Hennen had all 10 of his points in the second half.
But turnovers hurt the Tigers in the last three minutes. Instead of converting on opportunities to cut into NLS lead, the Wildcats kept the late Morris run in check with the occasional fast break basket or a couple of free throws.
Erik Tengwall paced the Wildcats with 23 points. Jay Moten added 17 points, Jenny had 11, and Justin Zylstra and Aaron Johnson collected 10 apiece. Tengwall completed a double-double with 10 rebounds and also recorded seven steals. Zylstra added eight and Johnson had six.
NLS 82, Morris 75
Morris 28 47 -- 75
NL-Spicer 50 32 -- 82
MORRIS - 25-52 FG (3-13 3-pt); 22-34 FT; 32 rebounds; 28 fouls ... Scoring: Lincoln Arnold 14, Chris Scott 8, Jackson Henrich 23, Taylor Nohl 8, Tyler Meichsner 2, Cory Hennen 10, Corey Nohl 10 ... 3-point shots: Henrich 1, Hennen 2 ... Rebound leaders: Scott 5, Henrich 11, Nohl 6 ... Assist leaders: Hennen 2, C.Nohl 2 ... Steal leaders: T.Nohl 4
NEW LONDON-SPICER - 22-44 FG (6-14 3-pt); 32-43 FT; 30 rebounds; 25 fouls ... Scoring: Erik Tengwall 23, Justin Zylstra 10, Aaron Johnson 10, Jay Moten 17, Jayme Moten 9, Chris Tobkin 2, Aaron Jenny 11 ... 3-point shots: Tengwall 1, Jay Moten 2, Jayme Moten 1, Jenny 2 ... Rebound leaders: Tengwall 10, Zylstra 8, Johnson 6 ... Assist leaders: Tengwall 4 ... Steal leaders: Tengwall 7