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Men's Basketball Survives First Round Of Holiday Classic
Posted: Wednesday, December 29, 2004
EAU CLAIRE - Casey Drake (Sr. -Rhinelander) scored 10 of Eau Claire's final 11 points game in leading the UW-Eau Claire men's basketball team to a 60-53 victory over Luther College (IA) here tonight in the first round of the 36th annual Eau Claire Holiday Classic at W.L. Zorn Arena.
The win advances the Blugolds to the championship game of the Classic, which will be held tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eau Claire will face off with Lakeland College after the Muskies took care of St. Olaf (MN) 95-80 in the other first round contest.
Neither team got off to a quick start as the game was tied at 11 midway through the first half. The Norse opened their biggest lead of the game when they took a 17-13 lead but the Blugolds responded with a 12-2 run to gain a six point advantage. Eau Claire maintained the margin until halftime and headed into the break with a 27-21 lead.
Luther came out of the locker room and stormed to a 13-4 run to open the second half, gaining a 34-31 lead. As they had done in the first half, the Blugolds again responded and scored the next six points for a 37-34 lead. Eau Claire would not trail the rest of the way, though the game would remain extremely close.
With the Blugolds up by just a pair in the final few minutes of regulation, Drake went to work. He was fouled immediately after forcing a steal and converted on two free-throws. On the ensuing inbound, Drake again tallied a steal and was again fouled. As he had done only moments before, he converted on the free-throws and gave Eau Claire a 53-47 lead. Drake and Luther's Tony Brantner exchanged the next eight points of the game and Drake sealed the victory with a pair of free-throws in the final 30 seconds of the game.
He finished the game with 27 points, a new season high. He was a perfect 8-of-8 from the charity stripe and also grabbed five rebounds. No other Blugold finished with more than seven points. Buck Smith (Jr.-Superior) led the team with nine rebounds and added six points. Brantner led the Norse with 16 points while Devine Drew added nine points and seven rebounds.
The Blugolds improved to 7-3 on the season with the victory while the Norse dropped to just 2-6 overall.
In the other semi-final game between Lakeland and St. Olaf, the Muskies set a new Holiday Classic record with 59 first-half points. Three other teams had scored 58 points in one half in the tournament's 36 year history. Lakeland never trailed in the game and was led by Kris Saiberlich with 17 points, all coming in the first half. Tucker Weisman led the Oles with 15 points.
Luther and St. Olaf will match up in the third-place game, which will be held tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. at Zorn Arena. Shortly after the third-place contest will be the Blugolds and Muskies in the championship game, which is slated for 8:00 p.m.
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