Blue Devils rally for home win

Fans should never leave the gym early when the Riverland men's basketball team has a home game.

There have been wild swings of emotion over the last week in games at home for the Riverland Blue Devils. They blew a 20-point lead and lost to North Iowa Area Community College, then also dropped the next game.

All of that changed Wednesday night against the Gustavus Adolphus junior varsity. The Blue Devils erased a 20-point deficit midway through the second half and a late three-pointer from Taylor Morgan gave them an improbable 80-78 win.

Playing without their leading scorer Zach Bunch, who was out with an injury, the Blue Devils struggled to score for most of the game. Then, they came to life with defensive intensity and key offensive contributions from a variety of players down the stretch.

"We're on the other side of a 20-point game this time and it was a nice comeback," Riverland coach Scott Koenigs said. "The guys in the rotation played a lot of minutes and we didn't want to put the press on too soon. It almost got out of hand, then we put the press on and it worked wonders."


Morgan was the main catalyst in the comeback with 15 of his game-high 24 points coming over the final 10 minutes. Jeff Clark-Neal, who scored 16 points, added clutch baskets along the way and made the pass to set up Morgan for the winning shot.

Marcus Ratliff scored 13 points and hit a big trey in the comeback. Keith Thames drove the Gusties crazy with his quick hands on defense and the resulting steals fueled the fastbreak. Wayne Canady hit a long ball in the closing minutes and Austin High alum Andrew Kaiser chipped in seven points to help the Blue Devils snap a two-game skid.

"Taylor is capable of doing that every night and he really stepped up in the second half," Koenigs said. "Jeff is a guy who can break down the defense and he opened up the offense. It was a great team effort and the guys played with a lot of heart."

Former Goodhue star Ashton Erie almost broke the hearts of Blue Devils fans with his three-point shooting. Erie canned four treys on the night as the Gusties built a big lead.

The deficit reached its nadir when the Gusties made a shot to take a 71-51 lead with 10:10 left on the clock. Morgan countered with a jumper and that started an incredible 29-7 run to end the game.

Things really got exciting after the Gusties appeared to weather the initial storm and a free throw made it a 74-57 lead. Clark-Neal hit a free throw at the other end and then, coach Koenigs unleashed the press.

Thames immediately got a steal and scored in transition. Morgan followed with a tip-in on the next trip as the Blue Devils exploded on a 14-0 run. Defense sparked the run to victory.

More steals by Morgan and Thames whittled down the deficit. Morgan capped the run with 3:23 to play and the home team was within three points. Erie scored for the Gusties, but Clark-Neal fired right back with 2:50 left.


"We just had to take our time and slow down the offense in the second half, so we could get to the basket and wear them down," Clark-Neal said. "The dribble penetration created open shots and forced them to work harder on defense. A lot of solid teamwork got the job done."

A pair of free throws from the Gusties gave them back a five-point lead, but those were their last points of the night. Morgan hit a shot to again make it a three-point deficit. Thames scored to bring the Blue Devils within 78-77.

Tense moments followed as both teams missed chances to gain the upper hand. Koenigs called a time-out and drew up a play. This time his players ran it to perfection. Clark-Neal got the ball and dribbled down the baseline, then kicked it to Morgan for the winning trey with a minute to play.

"It was a good assist from Jeff and there was no doubt when the ball left my hand that the shot was good," Morgan said. "Everybody played a part in the win. All of our hard work in practice paid off. We knew we could come back and nobody gave up."

In the final minute, the Blue Devils (3-2) were forced to sweat it out. Morgan blocked a shot by Erie and the Gusties had to foul, but Thames missed a pair of free throws.

Erie next missed a three-point attempt. Ratliff had a chance to seal the deal with two seconds left, but missed the front end of a bonus. It didn't matter as desperation heave by the visitors fell short and the home team celebrated on the court.


Ashton Erie 17, Jamie Hiner 13, Isaac Tapp 12, Brian Jacobs 9, Matt Humphries 9, Collin Zajicek 8, Martin Feddersen 4, Drew Olinger 3, Grant Soderberg 2, Dane Schmid 1.



Taylor Morgan 24, Jeff Clark-Neal 16, Marcus Ratliff 13, Wayne Canady 9, Keith Thames 8, Andrew Kaiser 7, Shane Barry 3.

Halftime:Gustvaus 46, Riverland 35.

Three-pointers:GUS 10-24 (Erie 4, Hiner 3, Olinger 1, Humphries 1, Jacobs 1). RIV 3-19 (Morgan 1, Canady 1, Ratliff 1).

Free throws:Gustavus 12-18, Riverland 13-26.

Rebounds:Gustavus 45 (Tapp 6); RIV 42 (Morgan 10).

What To Read Next
Get Local