MADISON (WAOW) — In games like this, you hate that only one team could be declared the winner.
As the WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament continues to churn out breathtaking finishes, the Columbus Catholic Dons injected the latest dose of madness into March, defeating the Bangor Cardinals on a buzzer-beating three to advance to the D5 title game in a thriller, 69-66.
Both teams overcame shaky field goal percentages in the first half (both teams shot roughly 37% from the field) with volume shooting. A trio of threes from Jarred Mandel put Columbus Catholic up 14-4 early on, and it looked like the Dons might have run away with this one in the opening minutes.
Mandel scored a game-high 13 points in the first half to go with six rebounds. Fellow senior Bryce Fuerlinger posted a double-double in the first half alone, scoring 11 points and corralling 12 boards.
But the Cards would unleash their inner early bird, employing a balanced effort that saw four different players score at least five points to outscore the Dons 28-19 after being down 14-4. They trailed at the half, 33-32.
The second half began much like the first half, with Columbus Catholic imposing their will early on. They pushed their lead to 45-38 with 14:22 to go after back-to-back baskets from Fuerlinger and Mandel.
Teammate Noah Taylor got going in the latter half as well; he reeled off eight quick points in the half’s early stages, including a three that would give the Dons their largest lead of the day to that point at 50-38. Their biggest lead would be at 57-44.
Grant Manke (20 points, 13 rebounds) tried to keep Bangor within striking distance. A one-handed offensive rebound followed by a putback started a mini-run for the Cardinals which saw them cut their deficit to 57-49 midway thru the half after a Trevor Jones three.
Minutes later, Mandel picked up his fourth foul on a charge, sending him to the bench with 7:23 to play and allowing the Cards a chance to make their biggest push yet.
Another Jones three with six minutes left made it 62-54, but his layup attempt with 2:45 was blocked by Fuerlinger back into Taylor’s hands as his foot was out of bounds, giving Columbus Catholic possession with a 64-57 lead.
Yet, Bangor fought on. Baskets on consecutive trips by Manke trimmed the deficit to 64-61 with 1:28 to go. The Dons turned the ball over on their next possession, giving the Cardinals a chance to tie, but Jones missed a three that would’ve made it 64 apiece.
Jaymeson Freit did not, however.
After Columbus Catholic couldn’t convert on a one-and-one attempt, Freit (12 points, 4 steals) buried a three to tie the game at 64 with 48.6 seconds left in regulation.
Mandel then sliced thru the lane to drop in an underhanded layup to put the Dons back in front, 66-64, with 24.2 seconds left. He finished with 22 points, 10 boards, six assists, four steals and four blocks in a mammoth stat-line.
Not for long, though. Bangor tied the game up yet again on the ensuing possession, securing several offensive boards before Jones’ floater went in with 5.8 seconds to play. The Bangor captain finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and a few gutsy buckets to keep the Cardinals in it until the end.
The final act, however, would belong to Columbus Catholic’s Tom Nystrom.
The Dons inbounded from full court, using several passes to get the ball top half-court before a final pass found Nystrom, who hadn’t scored all game, wide open on the wing for three with a chance to win at the buzzer.
— Quincy WIAA (@MagicOfMarchWI) March 15, 2019
Teammates and coaches mobbed Nystrom in joy, as the Dons move on to tomorrow’s D5 State Championship Game versus the Sheboygan Area Lutheran Crusaders.
Tip-off will be Saturday at 11:05 a.m.