WILLMAR -- The Willmar Cardinals and New London-Spicer Wildcats put on riveting show for the 960 fans on hand for the championship game of the Willmar Bremer Bank Classic championship on Saturday.
Not until the final two minutes of the game did the Cardinals pull way from the Wildcats to win 70-65.
The game was tied 56-56 with four minutes left.
NLS had led 22-11 at one point before Willmar rallied to take a 37-34 halftime lead.
The Wildcats managed three second-half leads over the Cardinals, each by a single point.
"It's always fun to beat New London," said Jordan Smith, who led the Cardinals with 24 points and eight rebounds. "We kept our composure when we got down early."
Willmar had trouble containing NLS senior guard Jay Moten, who scored 31 points.
"I thought we'd win," said Moten, whose previous high was 21 points 24 hours earlier in a 91-61 win over Benson. "I knew they had more height, but we're quicker. I thought we could beat them on the fast break."
Moten came out firing and scored 15 of his team's first 20 points.
Willmar was able to check the Wildcats' junior center Aaron Johnson, who had 31 points against Benson, but got in early foul trouble this time and was scoreless in the first half. Johnson didn't break loose until the final three minutes when he put in three of his four baskets in an eight-point, 10-rebound night.
"We contained Johnson for the first three quarters of the game," said Willmar coach Steve Grove. "We had a hand in Jay's face all game. More power to him if he can make those shots."
Moten drained 6-of-9 three-point shots.
Willmar got 20 points from Isaiah Streed, a 6-foot senior post, who had two baskets and a steal in the last three minutes as Willmar gradually pulled away.
Taylor Filipek had an off night shooting and six turnovers, but still made an important contribution with eight assists and 11 rebounds.
Junior guard Erik Tengwall returned to the NLS lineup to supply six rebounds, three assists and three points, but is still not 100 percent coming off an injury to his Achilles tendon. He and Moten are the only veterans from last season's Class AA champion.
Junior guard Sam Schmid also added eight points for NLS, while sophomore guard Jayme Moten and junior center Justin Zylstra each scored seven points. Zylstra nabbed 10 rebounds.
While playing seven underclassmen, the Wildcats dropped to 5-3.
The bordering school districts were meeting for the fifth straight time in the holiday final. NLS was the winner last year.
The Class AAA Cardinals (6-2), who are 0-2 against AAAA clubs this season, face two more large-school teams at home this week when they host Central Lakes favorite St. Cloud Tech on Friday and Moorhead in a non-conference clash Saturday.
The Wildcats are idle until Jan. 6 when they host West Central North rival Long Prairie-Grey Eagle.
Willmar 70, NL-Spicer 65
New London-Spicer (5-3) 34 31 -- 65
Willmar (6-2) 37 33 -- 70
NEW LONDON-SPICER - 23-53 FG (7-20 3-pt); 12-17 FT; 39 rebounds; 22 fouls ... Scoring: Jay Moten 31, Erik Tengwall 3, Sam Schmid 8, Jayme Moten 7, Aaron Jenny 1, Justin Zylstra 7, Aaron Johnson 8 ... 3-point shots: Jay Moten 6, Jayme Moten 1 ... Rebound leaders: Tengwall 6, Zylstra 8, Johnson 10 ... Assist leaders: Tengwall 3 ... Steal leaders: Schmid 3
WILLMAR - 25-52 FG (4-15 3-pt); 16-30 FT; 31 rebounds; 13 fouls ... Scoring: Alec Saunders 3, Logan Birkland 2, James Neis 1, Jordan Smith 24, Isaiah Streed 20, Taylor Filipek 11, Ryan Filipek 4, Brian Reeves 5 ... 3-point shots: Smith 4 ... Rebound leaders: T. Filipek 11, Smith 8 ... Assist leaders: T. Filipek 8, Saunders 4 ... Steal leaders: Four players with one each
Benson 67, New Ulm 53
Working his way to the basket on fast breaks or drives, Aaron Lindahl got 19 of his game-high 30-points in the first half as Benson built a 38-28 lead.
The Braves (2-4) went inside in the second half with center Josh Cluever getting eight of his season-best 12 points to go with a team-high 10 rebounds. Jeff Berens had eight points.
The winless Eagles (0-5) had 11 players score in the game, but only guard Justin Brethorst was in double figures with 18 points.
Benson (2-4) 38 29 -- 67
New Ulm (0-5) 28 25 -- 53
BENSON - 28-63 FG (0-1 3-pt); 11-20 FT; 36 rebounds; 19 fouls ... Scoring: Ben Murphy 4, Dan Martin 4, Jeff Berens 8, Brennan Kent 4, Aaron Lindahl 30, Jake Hanson 3, Josh Cluever 12, Steve James 2 ... 3-point shots: none ... Rebound leaders: Cluever 10, Kent 8, Lindahl 6 ... Assist leaders: Martin 5, Berens 4, Kent 4 ... Steal leaders: Lindahl 7, Berens 5
NEW ULM - 20-59 FG (2-12 3-pt); 11-17 FT; 20 rebounds; 18 fouls ... Scoring: Elliot Backer 3, Dave Ahrner 1, Justin Brethorst 18, Dusty Reinhart 5, Brett Gieseke 2, Erik Curry 5, Taylor Drahota 3, Andy Wendinger 3, Kevin Clancy 4, Nate Fokens 2, Mike Huber 7 ... 3-point shots: Wendinger 1, Drahota 1 ... Rebound leaders: Huber 5 ... Assist leaders: not available... Steal leaders: Folkens 2