By Paul Lecker
MADISON – Every basketball player dreams of hitting a buzzer-beating shot to win a big game for their team.
On Friday, Columbus Catholic junior Tom Nystrom lived the dream.
Nystrom, who had not scored in the game up to that point, drilled a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to lift Marshfield Columbus Catholic to a thrilling 69-66 victory over Bangor in a Division 5 semifinal at the 2019 WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament at the Kohl Center.
The Dons (26-2) won for the first time in three trips to the state tournament and will play Sheboygan Area Lutheran (26-2) for the Division 5 state title on Saturday at 11 a.m. Sheboygan Lutheran beat Chippewa Falls McDonell 74-61 in the earlier D-5 semifinal Friday. The game will be televised live on WAOW-TV 9, and broadcast live on onfocus.news/sports.
Bangor (25-2), the defending Division 5 state champ, rallied from a 13-point deficit in the second half to tie the game twice. Trevor Jones hit a basket following a pair of offensive rebounds with 5 seconds to go tie it at 66-66. Columbus called a timeout to set up what would be the winning play.
Bangor surrounded Jarred Mandel at midcourt before he found Nystrom on the left wing and he calmly stepped into a 3-point attempt that hit nothing but the net, setting off a huge celebration for the Dons.
“I really don’t remember what was going through my mind,” Nystrom said. “I just felt like I was shooting in the Columbus gym. I just had to get down the court and find an opening. If Jarred could make a pass he would, and it just happened to turn out that way and I was able to find an opening.”
Nystrom made five 3-pointers in Columbus’ sectional final win over Green Bay N.E.W. Lutheran last Saturday, but didn’t find himself open around the arc much on Friday, until the final seconds.
“When I turned, I saw a double (team) coming so I knew someone would be open,” Mandel said. “I saw Tommy on the wing and gave him the ball, and once I saw him shoot I knew it was in.”
Mandel hit three-straight 3-pointers early to help the Dons build a quick 16-6 lead before Bangor responded with a 9-0 run and it was tight for the remainder of the first half.
The Cardinals took a 26-25 lead on a 3-pointer by Jaymeson Freit, only to see Mandel retaliate quickly to put Columbus back on top and the Dons would take a 33-32 lead into halftime.
“We were a little tight and didn’t run a very good offense in the first half,” Columbus coach Joe Konieczny said.
Bangor scored the first four points to earn a three-point lead, its largest of the game, only to see the Dons respond in a big way.
Noah Taylor had a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup, Ethan Meece had a three-point play, and Taylor later hit another 3 as Columbus used an 18-6 run to go up 54-42.
After a pair of free throws by Bangor, Mandel hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game to give the Dons a 57-44 lead with 11:17 to go.
Bangor turned to a full-court trapping press, and to its leading scorer Grant Manke, to get back in it.
A rebound and basket by Bryce Fuerlinger, who finished with a Division 5 state tournament record 25 rebounds, gave the Dons a 64-55 lead with 4:35 to go. Bangor, however, wasn’t going to go away.
The Cardinals scored the next nine points and tied the game at 64-64 on a 3-pointer from Freit with 50 seconds remaining.
Mandel drove inside and spun a shot off the backboard and in with 29 seconds left before Bangor knotted it up again on the hoop from Jones with 5 seconds to go, setting up the final heroics for Columbus Catholic.
The final play worked to perfection for the Dons as Nystrom came up huge again, putting them into the Division 5 state championship game.
“In the second half, in the first 10 or 11 minutes, we played about as well as we could,” Konieczny said. “We tightened up again and didn’t handle late-game situations very well. We just ran our normal press break, got the ball to Jarred in the middle of the floor and trusted him to make a play. He threw the ball to Tom Nystrom and Tom lived the dream that every basketball player dreams – hitting a buzzer-beater at the Kohl Center. We were very fortunate and I’m very, very proud of our players, and very grateful that they took the season the distance and get to play on Championship Saturday.”
Mandel ended up with 22 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, including the big pass to Nystrom, Taylor had 17 points and eight rebounds, and Fuerlinger scored 15 points in addition to his huge game rebounding.
Columbus earned a 54-39 advantage on the boards, limiting the Cardinals to one shot for the majority of the game. Fuerlinger’s total of 25 rebounds broke the old Division 5 record of 17 set in 2012, and is the second-most ever in any state tournament game. The all-time record is 26, set by Jay Schauer of South Milwaukee in 1952.
“Bryce has been a beast on the boards all year long and Coach has been preaching to us that we need to help them out,” Mandel said. “I think we did a pretty good job. Two years ago (at the state tournament), we got outrebounded by 20 boards and we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.”
Dons 69, Cardinals 66
Bangor 32 34 – 66
Columbus Catholic 33 36 – 69
BANGOR (66): Jaymeson Freit 5-12 0-0 12, Trevor Jones 7-22 3-4 19, Dylan Sprain 0-0 0-0 0, Jaden Fargen 2-3 0-0 4, Zane Langrehr 3-10 0-0 7, Brayden Horstman 0-0 0-0 0, Hank Reader 2-10 0-0 4, Grant Manke 7-19 0-0 20. FG: 26-76. FT: 9-12. 3-pointers: 5-21 (Freit 2-6, Jones 2-8, Langrehr 1-5, Reader 0-2). Rebounds: 39 (Manke 13). Turnovers: 8. Fouls: 11. Fouled out: none. Record: 25-2.
COLUMBUS CATHOLIC (69): Noah Taylor 7-15 0-1 17, Tom Nystrom 1-3 0-0 3, Bryce Fuerlinger 7-13 1-2 15, Ethan Meece 3-10 2-3 8, Kellen Heinzen 1-4 2-2 4, Jarred Mandel 9-23 0-0 22. FG: 28-68. FT: 5-8. 3-pointers: 8-18 (Mandel 4-9, Taylor 3-5, Nystrom 1-2, Meece 0-2). Rebounds: 54 (Fuerlinger 25). Turnovers: 20. Fouls: 9. Fouled out: none. Record: 26-2.