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Eric Peterson, Published February 01 2014

Lien hits game-winner as Dragons edge Winona State

MOORHEAD – With the outcome in question, the ball ended up in the hands of a Minnesota State Moorhead freshman, and he delivered.

Aaron Lien hit a short running baseline jumper with two seconds remaining Saturday at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse. That clutch shot lifted the Dragons to an 82-80 victory against No. 25 ranked Winona State in Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference men’s basketball before 1,001 fans.

“Big moments don’t intimidate him,” Dragons head coach Chad Walthall said of Lien, a former Moorhead High standout.

The Dragons, who trailed by as many 13 points in the second half, didn’t take their first lead until the final two minutes. Lien’s game-winner gave MSUM only its second lead of the night.

“I know that coach has a lot of confidence and my abilities,” said Lien, who finished with 18 points tying a career high. “He trusted any one of us to make that shot.”

The Dragons (15-5, 11-5 NSIC) bounced back from Friday’s 109-107 overtime home loss against Upper Iowa. MSUM junior point guard Jordan Riewer broke his shooting hand in the loss, an injury that could force Riewer to miss the rest of the season.

“It’s pretty cool,” Walthall said. “Last (Friday) night I wonder why I’m in coaching and tonight (Saturday) this is the reason why. Because young people continue to amaze you by their resiliency.”

Winona State took a 79-73 lead after Skyler O’Laughlin three-point player with 3 minutes, 2 seconds remaining. The Dragons, however, scored nine of the game’s final 10 points to rally for the victory.

“They took the ball to the basket and they hit shots,” Winona State head coach Mike Leaf said. “We didn’t stop them defensively, and they hit shots. Simple game.”

Winona State point guard Taylor Cameron made 1 of 2 free throws to tie the score 80-80 with 19 seconds remaining. That set the stage for the Lien.

The Dragons milked the game clock and the ball ended up in Lien’s hands on the right wing. The 6-foot-4 Lien then drove baseline and hit an 8-foot floater to give the Dragons an 82-80 lead with 2 seconds remaining. Winona State had a last-second heave near half court that was off the mark as time expired. Lien was mobbed by his teammates after the final buzzer.

“It was just a huge rush,” Lien said. “It is such a blur right now. There is so much excitement going through all of us right now.”

Winona State looked like it would pull away from the Dragons earlier in the second half. The Warriors took a 68-55 lead after sophomore forward Mark Blacklock drained a 3-pointer with 10:53 remaining. Winona State was shooting 73 percent (11 of 15) from 3-point range after that shot. The Warriors, however, missed their final five 3-point attempts.

“They couldn’t stay hot forever and we really tightened up defensively,” Lien said.

Winona State shot 63 percent (19 of 30) from the field in the first half to build a 48-39 halftime lead. The Warriors shot 41 percent (11 of 27) from the floor in the final 20 minutes. The Dragons scored 43 points in the second half, shooting 50 percent (14 of 28) from the field.

“It was a lot of the second half where we made some indecision and turned the ball over and just didn’t do a very good job,” Leaf said.

WINONA STATE (18-5, 13-3 NSIC): Taylor 0-2 0-0 0, Masberg 2-6 2-2 7, Bambenek 10-16 3-4 26, O’Laughlin 4-6 2-3 10, Cameron 1-6 1-2 4, Mongan 3-5 0-0 9, Gray 0-2 0-0 0, Bauman 5-6 0-1 10, Arenz 0-0 0-0 0, Blacklock 5-8 1-2 14. Totals 30-57 9-14 80.

MSUM (15-5, 11-5): Clark 2-8 2-5 6, Williams 3-5 4-5 11, Wood 4-9 0-0 8, Vaughan 5-9 5-5 18, Bingham 4-9 0-2 9, Songolo 1-2 1-2 4, Nelson 1-4 1-2 3, Lien 6-10 4-5 18, Filipek 1-1 0-0 3, Sevlie 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 28-58 17-26 82.

Half: WSU 48, MSUM 39. 3-point goals: WSU 11-19 (Taylor 0-2, Masberg 1-1, Bambenek 3-5, Cameron 1-4, Mongan 3-3, Blacklock 3-4), MSUM 9-19 (Williams 1-1, Wood 0-2, Vaughan 3-5, Bingham 1-1, Songolo 1-2, Nelson 0-2, Lien 2-5, Filipek 1-1). Total fouls: WSU 18, MSUM 12. Rebounds: WSU 31 (Taylor 6), MSUM 34 (Bingham 6). Assists: WSU 15 (Cameron 5), MSUM 15 (Wood 4). Steals: WSU 6 (O’Laughlin 2), MSUM 5 (five players with 1). Turnovers: WSU 10 (O’Laughlin 4), MSUM 9 (Williams 3, Vaughan 3). A-1,001.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com