Devils rally back from 20 points down

Published 10:46 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Riverland's Jeff Clark-Neal goes up underneath during the first half against Gustavus Wednesday night at RCC. - Eric Johnson/

Say what you want about the Riverland men’s basketball team.

Just don’t call them quitters.

Despite the fact that their top scorer Zach Bunch was out with an injury and they trailed by 20 points with 10 minutes left in the game, the Blue Devils found a way to rally back and beat Gustavus JV 80-78 in Riverland Gym Wednesday.

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“Zach is our main penetrator and without him and two losses in a row, this is a nice comeback,” said RCC forward Jeff Clark-Neal, who had 16 points, five rebounds and four assists. “We put on a show for everybody tonight. We never gave up and that’s what counts.”

RCC(3-2 overall) hadn’t led since the early minutes when Clark-Neal drove to the hoop with a minute to go. After drawing a double team, he kicked it out to Taylor Morgan, who drilled a baseline three to make it 80-78.

Riverland's Keith Thames looks to pass across the lane during the first half against Gustavus JV Wednesday night at RCC. - Eric Johnson/

“I got a good pass from Jeff and there was no doubt in my mind. That’s what we’ve been working hard in practice for,” said Morgan, who had 24 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocked shots. “Our school came through for us tonight, the crowd was there and that opened it up.”

Morgan blocked what would’ve been a game tying lay-up by Gustavus’s Ashton Erie on the ensuing possession with 23 seconds left. But Erie, a Goodhue grad who scored 17 points, got a chance for redemption after RCC missed three free throws, but his open three-pointer from the wing missed just wide as time expired.

RCC trailed 71-51 with 10:10 left in the game when it went to a full court press. The Blue Devils put up 14 straight points with their press and they finished the game on a 29-7 run.

“We were planning on putting pressure on them, but we just didn’t think we could hold off with just seven guys playing a lot of minutes,” RCC head coach Scott Koenigs said. “If we did it too early, I didn’t think we’d keep the pressure up.”

Morgan, who is from Minneapolis, Minn., gave the Blue Devils a big boost by scoring 15 of RCC’s 29 points in the late rally.

“Taylor’s capable of doing that every night. He’s had a couple huge games now,” Koenigs said. “The guys really stepped and we looked like a different team than we did on Saturday (when RCC lost to Western Wisconsin Tech).”

Keith Thames, who is from Chicago, helped start RCC’s rally with some pressure defense as he finished with eight points, four rebounds, and five assists.

Gustavus 46 32 — 78

RCC 35 45 — 80

RCC scoring: Taylor Morgan, 24; Jeff Clark-Neal, 16; Marcus Ratliff, 13; Wayne Canady, 9; Keith Thames, 8; Andrew Kaiser, 7; Shane Barry, 3; field goals: 43 percent (32-for-74); three-pointers: 16 percent (3-for-19); free throws: 50 percent (13-for-26); rebounds: 42 (Morgan, 10); turnovers: 13