LAND O'LAKES — Whether it was out of boredom or anxiety, Friday's semifinals of the Class 5A, District 7 tournament had spectators biting their nails.
A thrashing — top-seeded Ridgewood's 80-25 rout of River Ridge — was followed by a thriller. Land O'Lakes (17-9), woefully out of synch in the first half, rallied for a 64-60 triumph over Central (9-17) in a game featuring seven lead changes and one heads-up play at the free-throw line.
Gators guard Denzel Gordon scored six consecutive points in the final minute to help seal things. His free throw with 18.3 seconds to play, which gave Land O'Lakes a 60-57 lead, was followed by a miss that hit the front of the rim. Gordon swiped the rebound and was fouled on the put-back basket that made it 62-57.
"It's crazy. That's something we just went over in practice (Thursday)," Bears coach Eric Hayes said. "For whatever reason, I don't know if it was mental fatigue or what it was, we didn't step in the lane, didn't get our assignments, and that's the difference between winning and losing."
Central, which found itself in a 7-0 hole early, went on a 16-5 second-quarter run and held a 30-29 halftime lead. The Gators, victimized by sloppy defense and hasty shot selection, were able to stay close thanks to the perimeter shooting of Sean Cooper (20 points) and Jackson Cannon (17), who combined for five second-quarter3-pointers.
"(Cannon) is only a freshman; he did a great job tonight," Gators coach Dave Puhalski said. "He is a perimeter player, but he's never been that hot."
Bears senior Darryn Frazier led all scorers with 30 points. His quest for 32, with his team trailing by two with fewer than 30 seconds remaining, ended when he drove from the right wing in traffic and had to slightly alter his running shot, which missed.
The first semifinal was played with a running clock in the second half due to the state's mercy rule. Ridgewood, which led 50-13 at halftime, got 23 points from senior point guard Alvin Satram.
The Rams (24-2) and Gators square off for the district title tonight at 7 in the Gators' gym. Ridgewood won both regular-season meetings by margins of 31 and 10 points.