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Bemidji boys basketball comeback falls short against Willmar

Bemidji's Cody Rutledge dribbles along the baseline under pressure from Willmar's Joseph Leuze during Saturday's game. Tom Larson | West Central Tribune

WILLMAR -- One clutch basketball player makes a game-winning shot in overtime while another has his potential game-winner dance on the rim and bounce out.

That's how simple -- and maddening -- an often complex game boils down sometimes.

Carey Woods' short runner with 18 seconds left in overtime that would have given Bemidji the lead was in the basket, then out, and the Lumberjacks fell to Willmar 71-68 after battling back from a 12-point second-half deficit on Saturday at Willmar High School.

Willmar's Jimmy Unger, the game's leading scorer, hit a 3-pointer to put the Cardinals ahead 69-68 with 35 seconds left in overtime, and teammate Austin Rambow hit two free throws after Woods' miss.

"I thought it was down," said Woods, shaking his head slightly. "I had a good look it, it was a good shot, it just rolled out."

Bemidji head coach Jeff Brown was a believer, too.

"We did a nice job coming back, and I really thought Woods' layup was going to go down," Brown said. "That's the way it goes sometimes, but you can't fault the effort of the kids. They played hard."

Bemidji played loose with the ball and fell behind by seven at halftime.

In the second half, the deficit reached a dozen points before the Lumberjacks recharged.

The Lumberjacks came back quickly, with Woods scoring nine of his team-high 22 points in the second half and JC Cervenka hitting three 3-pointers and netting 11 of his 15 points after the break.

Bemidji took the lead 66-64 on a Cody Rutledge dunk, but Willmar's Dean Stier hit two foul shots with 2:16 left in regulation to tie it.

In overtime, Bemidji's Connor Sullivan hit a short bank shot and Rambow hit two free throws to make it 68-all.

But the Lumberjacks missed three free throws in overtime, and Unger drilled the final three of his 30 points from the top of the key.

Bemidij (68)

Rainey 2, Rutledge 11, Brown 1, Woods 22, Seado 5, Cervenka 15, Sullivan 10, Declusin 2

Willmar (71)

Stier 5, Leuze 7, Unger 30, Suedbeck 3, Mohamud 6, Rambow 17, Grove 3

3-point FG: Bemidji 8 (Woods 4, Cervenka 3, Seado 1); Willmar 10

Halftime: Willmar 37, Bemidji 30

Regulation: Bemidji 66, Willmar 66

TOM LARSON is a reporter for the West Central Tribune. The West Central Tribune and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Company.