SCOTT THROLSON Bismarck Tribune
Mon-Dak Conference games between United Tribes and Bismarck State have been down-to-the-wire affairs recently.
So it was no surprise that with three ticks left on the clock, the teams were lining up for one last possession with the game on the line on Monday night at the United Tribes gym.
The Thunderbirds held on for a 104-102 victory over the Mystics as Jacob Martin blocked Tronis McKay's short jumper in the line at the buzzer.
United Tribes led by as many as 13 points in the first half, and after BSC rallied to take the lead early in the second half, the Thunderbirds again grabbed the lead, maintaining a small advantage most of the second half as well, until a frantic finish.
"It was a long stretch there," Conway said. "We were up four or five, pushed it to six or seven, but we just couldn't get away from them. They fought hard the whole night and battled their way back.
"They changed the momentum with their defense, got a couple of blocks, steals, the big dunk. The momentum kind of switched in their favor but we made just enough plays to win the game."
United Tribes had the lead, but Bismarck State kept battling back.
"In the second half, it was an even game," Conway said. "We might have had a four- or five-point lead here and there but basically we were trading buckets. They made a run and took the lead by one."
BSC used a late 7-2 run to pull within 99-98 with 2:00 remaining.
With 1:25 left, KyJuan Johnson stole the ball and finished in transition to give the Mystics a 100-99 lead. That was the first of four led changes in the final 90 seconds.
Robert Beaulieu answered for United Tribes, making it 101-100. With 56 seconds to go, BSC pushed back in front on a jumper by Kaelen Johnson.
Sam Pendleton's runner with 36 seconds left gave the Thunderbirds the lead for good at 103-102. Pendleton finished with 23 points and eight assists.
"Sam was great tonight," Conway said. "He made a lot of great decisions getting into the lane and finding shooters and finishing when he needed to finish."
With 8.8 seconds left, Martin hit one of two free throws to make it 104-102.
BSC called a final timeout with 3 seconds left to set up the final play.
"We kind of knew they were going to go to Tronis and we put one of our better defenders on him and Jake made the play to win the game," Pendleton said.
Pendleton and Shayden Keplin scored 23 points apiece to lead the Thunderbirds (17-5, 2-2 Mon-Dak). Rob McClain posted a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Martin finished with 13 points and six assists and Beaulieu had 10 points and seven rebounds.
"The game kind of slowed down in the second half and we had to run a little bit of halfcourt offense," Conway said. "The high ball screens kind of spread them out. We got in the lane and made some plays."
"Rebounding and defense were the keys," Pendleton said. "They're a big team so we all had to rebound in order to get the win."
Tronis McKay led BSC (8-11, 2-2 Mon-Dak) with a double-double – 28 points and 14 rebounds. Kaelen Johnson added 27 points. Austin Slaughter finished with 15 and Brody Nieuwsma added 14.