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Otters' late charge falls short in state opener

Fergus Falls' senior forward Matt Monke defends an Adam Daggett shot in the Section 8AAA semifinal in Moorhead Saturday, March 11. File photo

Trailing the entire game, Fergus Falls nearly snuck away with a state tournament win.

Down 15 points with less than five minutes to play, the Otters clawed back bit by bit but fell short, falling 77-74 to Columbia Heights in the Minnesota Class 3A state boys basketball tournament on Wednesday, March 22, in Williams Arena.

"We have a team that's capable of shooting like that, and coming back out of a hole like that," senior forward Matt Monke said. "I had faith in us the whole time."

It took a pretty hefty dose of faith for a team that shot 25 percent from the field in the first half to stick with their game plan, but it took nearly three-fourths of the game for Fergus Falls to finally start connecting.

"We kept telling our guys we're getting the shots we want, they'll fall at some point," Fergus Falls coach Matt Johnson said. "But they weren't falling, and that's the way the afternoon trended until there were just a few minutes left."

The shots began to fall from outside, as Monke, Harrison Christensen and Matthew Johnson hit 3-pointers to put pressure on the Hylanders, who played the last 2 minutes, 25 seconds without starting point guard Quintin Hardrict.

"They didn't shoot well in the first half, but in the second half they really caught on fire," Columbia Heights coach Willie Braziel said.

Fergus Falls switched to a full-court press in the second half—a defense Columbia Heights employed nearly the entire game—and generated 23 points off turnovers to fuel the comeback.

"Our kids have always had a knack for playing with a little urgency, or a sense of desperation," coach Matt Johnson said. "It's an ability to hit a few shots and turn teams around. I thought (Columbia Height's) youth came out a bit—turning the ball over, missing a few shots and free throws down the stretch. Things were going the way they needed to for us near the end, but we didn't get it going quite soon enough."

Monke and Christensen led Fergus Falls (25-5) with 16 points apiece. Nathan Rund tallied 14 points, while Matthew Johnson added 14 off the bench.

Hardrict and Wendell Matthews paced Columbia Heights with 19 points each.

Fergus Falls moves to the consolation bracket, where the tournament's No. 4 seed will face Big Lake at 2 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at Concordia-St. Paul. Big Lake fell to perennial powerhouse Minneapolis DeLaSalle 55-47 on Wednesday.

"We already had our talk in the locker room. It's an awesome thing that the high school league has done to add the consolation bracket to guarantee each team two games," coach Matt Johnson said. "Only four teams get to win in the first round, so now four teams have the goal of leaving here with two wins. We think we can compete with any team here, so tomorrow our goal is to get ready for Big Lake and leave here with two wins. Our guys will be ready."

CH: Kelly 14, Matthews 19, Hardrict 19, Thomas 4, Wright 13, Roberson 3, Austin 5.

FF: Rund 14, Christensen 16, Breen 5, Colbeck 6, Monke 16, Johnson 14, Stanislawski 3.

Half: CH 27, FF 17.