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Tigers hold off Willmar

Willmar senior Isaiah Streed, center, soars past Adam Johnson, left, of St. Cloud Tech in the second half on the way to scoring a team-high 20 points Tuesday in Willmar. Looking on is St. Cloud Tech's Alex Hanks. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

WILLMAR -- Every time Willmar backed the Tigers into a corner, the Central Lakes Conference leaders counterpunched -- and hard.

In the end, St. Cloud Tech survived to win a crisply-played boys basketball game on Tuesday evening, 85-84.

Willmar played catch-up all night, trailing by as many as 13 points with 13 minutes left in the second half.

The Cardinals (8-2, 12-5), who were knocked twop games behind the leaders, were still trying to catch the unbeaten Tigers (11-0, 16-0) at the horn when Jordan Smith swished a three-pointer from the top of the key.

The action was riveting from start to finish; the No. 4 team in Class AAAA played great team basketball, though Nate Walters was the key to their success, scoring 29 points.

Willmar's spring-loaded offense just wouldn't give up.

"I told the guys it was a great effort," said Willmar coach Steve Grove. "They were playing from behind nearly the entire game, but they kept their composure. That's what you ask ... to put yourself in a position to win at the end."

Willmar trailed 73-63 with 10 minutes left. Sophomore center Brian Reeves, who scored on three straight shots late in the game, scored inside to make it 82-80 with under a minute to play. Jim Neis made one of two free throws with 24 seconds left to make it 82-81.

But Walters made three of four shots at the line in the remaining time, sandwiched around a Willmar turnover to clinch their 11th CLC win without a loss.

Willmar dropped to 8-2 in league games and will now need help to catch the Tigers. The rivalry resumes Feb. 13 in St. Cloud.

With Tech focused on slowing down Taylor Filipek and Smith, Isaiah Smith found openings and scored 20 points, 14 int he first half. Neis also had a big game with 11 points and five assists while Alec Saunders handed out 10 assistes.

Smith and Filipek had only 11 points combined by halftime when Willmar trailed 39-36.

Smith never got going offensively and finished with 11 points on 4 of 13 shooting. Filipek came on strong in the last 10 minutes to end up with 17 points. Reeves, getting nice feeds and off strong rebounding, made 9 of 11 shots for 18 points.

"It was a great crowd," said Grove. "A fun game."

Tech, now 16-0, had little height but made up for it with crisp passing, strong hands and silky releases on their shots. The Tigers made 21 of 34 two-point attempts (62 percent) and 9 of 23 three-pointers. Nick Jordan made five of those for 16 points.

The only team to come this close to Tech was Tartan, 56-54 at Marshall on Dec. 12.

SC Tech 85, Willmar 84

SC Tech (11-0, 16-0) 39 46 -- 85

Willmar (8-2, 12-5) 36 48 -- 84

ST. CLOUD TECH - 30-57 FG (9-23 3-pt); 16-26 FT; 28 rebounds; 15 fouls ... Scoring: Nick Jordan 16, Alan Fruth 3, Devin Ambrose 8, Nate Wolters 29, Alex Hanks 11, Adam Johnson 4, Tyson Euerle 14 ... 3-point shots: Fruth 1, Jordan 5, Ambrose 2, Wolters 1 ... Rebound leaders: not available

WILLMAR - 34-66 FG (8-17 3-pt); 8-15 FT; 30 rebounds; 23 fouls ... Scoring: Alec Saunders 5, Jime Neis 11, Jordan Smith 11, Isaiah Streed 20, Taylor Filipek 17, Ryan Filipek 2, Brian Reeves 18 ... 3-point shots: Saunders 1, Neis 1, Smith 2, Stree 2, T. Filipek 2 ... Rebound leaders: Smith 6, Streed 4, T. Filipek 4, Reeves 10 ... Assist leaders: Saunders 10, Neis 5, Smith 4 ... Steal leaders: Smith 2