DURANT, Iowa — Joe Lilienthal said he’s never made a bigger shot than the two he knocked down in the final minute on Saturday.
Trailing Cascade by two points with less than a minute remaining, the 6-foot-7 junior received a pass from Mason Compton just above the free throw line and drained a jump shot to tie the game.
Then, with 2.3 seconds remaining, Lilienthal hit a free throw to break the tie and lift the Durant boys basketball team to a 38-37 win over the defending Class 2A state champion Cascade in Durant. The Wildcats trailed by as many as 16, including by 12 at halftime, but outscored the Cougars 21-8 in the second half for their biggest win of the season.
“We just needed something to go our way,” coach Matt Straube said of his Durant basketball team which currently holds a 4-7 record.
“Beat a good team and hopefully that kind of sparks you. I’m hoping tonight they come together and realize we can play with anybody in the conference and send a message that we’re going to be a tough team the rest of the way.”
Bryce Lafrenz and Easton Botkins led Durant with 10 points apiece. Lilienthal, meanwhile, added seven points, three in the final 40 seconds.
Lilienthal is Durant’s third leading scorer on the season but after missing school Thursday and not starting Friday’s game due to flu-like symptoms, there was no guarantee the Wildcats would get much production from the junior.
“Coming into this morning I felt better,” Lilienthal said. “I guess once I’m on the floor I just go out there and play.”
Because of that, Straube was glad to see Lilienthal be the one to step up down the stretch. However, the ride to the finish line was anything but smooth against the Cougars (6-5).
Cascade made five 3-pointers in the first half and often made the Durant 2-3 zone defense look a step slow. As a result, the Cougars opened up a 24-8 lead midway through the second quarter. For Durant, it must have felt an awful lot like the team’s summer matchup, which was a blowout loss for the Wildcats.
“We played them over the summer and they absolutely throttled us in what I thought was our most embarrassing game we’ve played,” Straube said. “It was real bad. I haven’t let it leave their minds.”
The Wildcats played like it in the second half, as their suffocating and more disciplined defense allowed just eight points. Cascade’s first point didn’t come until nearly six minutes into the half when Haris Hoffman, who scored 10 points, hit a free throw.
“I thought Cascade started to feel some game pressure," Straube said. "We scored the first nine points of the half and all of the sudden we had a ball game.”
Still, the Wildcats trailed by four points with under two minutes remaining. Compton drilled a jump shot with just over one minute remaining to bring them within two, 37-35, and Lafrenz drew charge moments later.
On the ensuing possession, Compton dished to Lilienthal for the tying jumper.
“Honestly, I don’t know where that came from,” Lilienthal said with a smile. “I was just kind of hoping for the best when I put it up.”
On the ensuing Cascade possession, Botkins came up with a steal near halfcourt and passed ahead to a wide-open Marcus Engstler who was intentionally fouled. He missed both free throws with seven seconds remaining.
However, the Wildcats kept possession due to the intentional foul call and got the ball to Lilienthal with 2.3 seconds remaining and he was fouled. The junior calmly knocked down 1-of-2 free throws to seal a win for Durant.
“I’m super proud of them,” Straube said. “I’m hoping this is the spark we needed to right the ship.”
Cascade 56, Durant 28: Through one half Durant coach Ross DeLong felt good about the play of the Wildcats.
Durant took care of the ball against the Cascade press and got good shots more often than not on offense. As a result, Durant only trailed Class 2A No. 8 Cascade (11-1) by 11 at halftime despite missing a lot of open shots.
However, Cascade turned up the pressure in the second half and forced Durant into a slew of turnovers while handing the Wildcats a 56-28 loss.
“Tonight was just one of those things where once the snowball got rolling we couldn’t stop it,” DeLong said.
The Wildcats (2-10) played scrappy defense early and trailed by just three after a shot from beyond the arc from freshman Ally Happ, who scored six points. Both Hannah Happ and Kamryn Meyer led Durant with 10 points apiece. Nicole McDermott led Cascade with 13 points.
But, Cascade opened up a double-digit lead before outscoring Durant 14-5 in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
The Wildcats were without senior Ruby Kappeler, who sprained her wrist in Friday’s win over North Cedar.
“It’s just week-by-week,” DeLong said of Kappeler’s injury. “We’re going to take it easy this week and see how she is at the end of the week.”