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Boys basketball: This time, it’s Willmar by 1

FERGUS FALLS — After three narrow losses to open the season, a tense ending favored the Cardinals this time.

A shot to win by Reece Johnson from the baseline missed and the horn sounded in a scramble for the loose ball.

Willmar escaped the Fergus Falls’ gym with a 52-51 Central Lakes victory after a physical defensive battle.

The Cardinals started the season losing by 3 to Hutchinson, by 5 to St. Cloud Apollo and by 1 to Rocori in overtime.

Junior Cody Magnuson sniped for 18 points, hitting critical 3-pointers in the second half. Sean Zuidema, coming off Willmar’s abbreviated bench, followed with 14 points.

The Otters had a chance to go ahead after a timeout with 25 second left. But Willmar senior forward Alex Grove made a steal and drew a foul.

But the front end of the 1-and-1 didn’t drop and the Otters rebounded, taking a time out with 8 seconds  showing on the clock.

They got the ball to their ace, 6-2 senior forward Mike Millard, at the top of the key but he was surrounded and whipped a pass to Johnson in the corner whose shot had little chance.

Millard finished with a team-high 17 points as the Otters dropped to 2-1 and 4-2.

Willmar (1-2, 2-4) takes a two-game winning streak into the Bremer Bank Tourney Wednesday Thursday, meeting the Benson Braves at the high school in the first round.

Willmar was without Tyler Stegeman and Skylar Johnson, both injured, and Joel Carter, who is on an overseas family trip.

Grove had only two points but delivered 5 steals and 5 assists, several to Zuidema cutting through the lane for open layups.

Austin Rambow, again the center of attention for opposing defenses, still managed 8 points and 9 rebounds.

“Cody really heated up in the second half and had some big buckets down the stretch,” said Willmar coach Steve Grove. “Sean had a big game at both ends of the court. He did a great job on Jackson McAllister, a good shooter, holding him to 7 points.”

Willmar 52, Fergus F. 51

Willmar (1-2, 2-4)    32  20 — 52

Fergus Falls (2-1, 4-2)    24  27 — 51

WILLMAR – 27-46 FG (5-18 3-pt); 13-18 FT; 23 rebounds; 17 fouls … Scoring: Joe Leuze 2 Alex Grove 2, Austin Rambow 8, Cody Magnuson 18, Sean Zuidema 14, Jordan Guertz 4, Schueler 4 … 3-point shots: Magnuson 4, Dylan Schueler  … Rebound leaders: Rambow 9, Zuidema 5 … Assist leaders: Grove 5 … Steal leaders: Grove 5

FERGUS FALLS – 19-55 FG (4-18 3-pt); 9-16 FT; 32 rebounds; 17 fouls … Scoring: Mike Millard 17, Isaiah Lemke 5, Brady Hansen 2, Reece Johnson 4, Jackson McAllister 7, Austin Rund 11, Joe Gaworski 2, Joel King 2, Drew Pearson 3 … 3-point shots:  Pearson, McLister, Lemke, Ruud