by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Terry Hadden was a big-play guy for the Elk River football team last fall as a defensive back and punt returner, helping the Elks win their first section title in two decades. His senior basketball season was less illustrious before Monday night.
The senior guard was averaging 3.9 points and had made just 11 of 64 shots from three-point range heading into the Elks section semifinal against Moorhead at St. Cloud State.
But in a game where the Elks sorely needed something extra, because Moorhead’s star player was unstoppable with 43 points, and the Spuds shot a ridiculous 67 percent as a team, Hadden delivered the game of his life.
Leading a 78-77 overtime victory by Elks, the slim 6-foot-1 athlete nailed 24 points, including the game-winning free shot with a tenth of a second on the clock in overtime, and seven of 12 from three-point range.
“Terry has always been a streaky shooter,” said coach Randy Klasen. “This year there was a couple games he shot well, but he has struggled with his shot. But once he hit that first one tonight, he started feeling pretty good.”
Hadden, whose previous high was 14, didn’t start against Moorhead, but played 29 of the 40 minutes. It was hard to take him out.
“It’s all about confidence, which sometimes I don’t have,” said Hadden, “and usually Clay and Porter are making all their shots. But they (Moorhead) started face-guarding them every single time, and we knew someone else had to step up.”
Clay Elrod scored 22 points, Bryan Edwards 14 and Porter Morrell 10 as the Elks (20-8) advanced to the Section 8AAAA finals Thursday against Brainerd (27-1) at a site that had not been designated at this posting.
Elrod and Edwards both fouled out in overtime but the Elks held on.
“I thought the other kids really stepped up,” said Klasen. “It was an excellent high school basketball game.”
Moorhead coach Corey Zimmerman seconded that notion — “It was a great game. That is what March is all about” — while lamenting crucial referee calls at the end of both regulation and overtime.
The Elks had to overcome Moorhead’s spectacular Aaron Lien, who had earned some state-wide renown by scoring 53 points in a 95-93 win over Brainerd on Feb. 1 (the Warriors lone loss of the year) and was averaging 28 coming into the game.
The slippery, sinewy 6-foot-4 forward played almost flawless game, sinking 25 of 29 shots — 13-for-16 from the field including 5-for-5 on three’s, and 12-for-13 at the line — for his 43 points. Never leaving the floor, he committed just three turnovers in 40 minutes even though he handled the ball as much as the guards. The left-handed Minnnesota-Moorhead recruit snagged 10 rebounds, blocked three shots, and made two steals.
On one drive in the first half he had a shot blocked from behind but pounced on the loose ball and went right back up, drawing the foul and converting a three-point play. That’s what the Elks were dealing with here, a guy who could do no wrong. On several occasions the Elks had him double-teamed in the backcourt but he always squirmed free.
“Lien was phenomenal. He played a tremendous game,” said Klasen. “We tried everything we could to stop him, tried to contest his shots, but couldn’t.”
Said Hadden: “He could spot up and shoot, he could shoot with a guy in his face, he could drive past you. Great basketball player.”
Klasen threw five different guys at him with Max Person, Edwards, Hadden, Morrell and briefly Zach Ernst all taking turns. “But never all five guys at once,” Klasen said. “Maybe we should have.”
Cody Dorow added 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting as the Spuds (17-9) nailed 27 of 40 field goals. They were even better outside the arc at 72.7 percent (8-for-11) and cashed 15 of 18 free shots, while outrebounding the Elks 26-17, committing only 11 fouls and limiting the Elks to three points at the free throw line.
So how do you beat a team playing that well? It helped that the Elks made only seven turnovers while extracting 14, and shot torridly themselves at 30-for-55 (54.5 percent) overall and 15-for-27 on three’s (55.6 percent). The 15 trifecta’s were one short of the team record.
Elrod’s 22 points included hitting 4-for-5 on his long, towering three-pointers. Among Edwards’ 14 points were his first-ever dunk and his first two three-pointers. The rugged 6-4 center also snagged seven rebounds and made four steals. Morrell was limited to 10 although he made eight assists. Isaac Howard added six points and two huge free shots.
The Elks came out on fire, cruising to a 28-15 lead, sparked by a pair of three’s each from Elrod and Morrell and three baskets off ball steals, highlighted by Edwards’ dunk after his mid-court pilfer.
But Lien and the Spuds heated up and pulled within 39-36 at halftime. Lien had 24 points already and Dorow gave them a big boost by stealing the ball and dunking with :04 left. Hadden’s 11 points kept the Elks in front, but we had a ballgame.
The game that looked like an Elk rout early on wound up with 14 lead changes in the second half and overtime. The Elks had a couple of breaks as both Edwards and Hadden tossed up three’s that banked in. Elrod swished a three for a 70-68 lead with :56 left. Lien immediately drove the lane and drew Edwards’ fourth foul, and cashed both freebie’s for a 70-70 tie with :37 left.
The Elks wound the clock down inside 10 before Elrod made a move down the side of the lane while covered tightly — and was called for double dribble.
“I told (assistant Aaron) Osterman at the end of regulation, we need to win it now,” said Klasen. “Because with Bryan and Clay with four fouls, they way they were calling it, I was afraid we would not get through overtime without those guys picking up their fifth foul.”
Instead, Lien and the Spuds got the last chance. He went up for an 18-foot runner that missed as an Elk defender got some ball and maybe some arm, too, but there was no call.
In the overtime, Edwards and then Elrod did indeed get their fifth fouls.
Edwards, asked if he felt the Elks were in big trouble with him and Elrod out, shook his head. “No, I had faith in all these guys. I know all of them can handle it. I practice with them every day.”
He added with a grin, “This was a crazy game.”
When Elrod exited with 1:27 left, the Elks at least had a 77-74 cushion, thanks two a pair of free shots by Howard, Edwards’ replacement, eight seconds earlier.
After Moorhead got two free shots from Lien, Hadden missed the front of a one-and-one, tarnishing his hero’s role for the time being. Moorhead’s Dorow got fouled on a rebound and fortunately missed one of his two free shots.
Once again the Elks had the ball with score tied, 77-77, in the final seconds. Morrell, the only one of the Elks big three still on the floor, drew the brunt of Moorhead’s attention, so Hadden slashed across the lane and went up for what would have been an off-balance, low-percentage runner.
But Moorhead was called for contact, with 00.1 on the clock. Hadden had two chances to win it at the line.
“When I missed the first one (earlier), I was nervous, but Clay came up to me and said ‘Confidence!’ ” Hadden related. “And I got the ball back and made the next one … I felt really good, I knew I had two chances, and if I missed the first one, I would could adjust for the second one.”
Hadden was dead-center on the first attempt, and he missed the second intentionally, leaving Moorhead with a full-length of the court desperation heave by Dorow (which actually came pretty close) and the Elks were in the section finals.
Coach disappointed in calls
For the Moorhead coach, the outcome was tough to accept.
“The way it ended, I don’t think it was fair for our kids,” said Zimmerman. “Let the kids play it out, at that point in the game. The same call could have been made at the end of regulation.”
Asked how he saw the Lien play at the buzzer, which was right in front of him, he said, “When he went up, he got hit on the arm, and they didn’t call it. Which is understandable, because at the end of the half, (you should) let the kids play it out, let the players make the play.”
Klasen thought the fifth fouls called on Edwards and Elrod were both “a little iffy” and those were crucial calls as well.
This three-man crew seemed to have the game well under control overall, with little squawking from either bench otherwise.
Rematch with No. 8 Brainerd
The Elks will get a rematch with Brainerd and a chance to erase an humbling 57-36 loss to the Warriors in Brainerd on Feb. 2.
When the Elks have discussed that game, they mention early foul trouble and poor shooting, while acknowledging that Brainerd was clearly the better team that night.
“It was nice to get this win, and get a chance to play again on Thursday,” said Klasen. “We get Brainerd again, in a different situation, different circumstances. It will be a fun game. They are good.”
Brainerd, 27-1 and ranked No. 8, beat Buffalo 74-63 after trailing 55-48 with seven minutes left.
The Warriors are looking for their first state trip since 1991 and certainly wear the favorite’s role.
The Elks will play in their first section final since 2006 when they beat Alexandria and went on to place third in the state.
Elk River 78, Moorhead 77 (overtime)
Moorhead …… 36 34 7 — 77
Elk River …….. 39 31 8 — 78
Moorhead — Aaron Lien 43 (10 reb, 3 blk, 2 stl), Austin Nelson 2, Brett Lawerence 6, Zack Dobbins 8 (4 ast), Cody Dorow 16, Taylor Doeden 3, Tyler Eidsness 0, Nick Wiesmann 0 … Team: 27-40 FG, 8-11 3FG, 15-18 FY, 26 rebounds, 14 turnovers
Elk River — Clay Elrod 22, Max Person 2, Bryan Edwards 14 (7 reb, 3 ast, 4 stl), Zach Ernst 0 (4 ast), Porter Morrell 10 (8 ast), Terry Hadden 24, Mitchell Weege 0, Isaac Howard 6 … Team: 30-55 FG, 15-27 3FG, 3-6 FT, 17 rebounds, 7 turnovers