MOORHEAD — Harrison Cleary, the man everyone expected to take the last shot, made his move and saw, out of the corner of his eye, the man everyone perhaps least expected to take the shot.
That included Ibu Jassey Demba himself.
But that didn't preclude Jassey Demba from knowing what to do when time's running down and the ball finds its way into your hands. There's not a basketball player in the world who hasn't dreamed of that exact scenario. Here was Jassey Demba's chance to live it.
The junior forward caught Cleary's pass, jumped skyward, flicked his wrist and gave the Minnesota Crookston men's basketball team its biggest win of the season, one that will perhaps define the program's trajectory for the foreseeable future.
"I didn't expect it, but it happened," Jassey Demba said. "Had to make a big shot."
Did he ever.
The Golden Eagles, on Jassey Demba's buzzer-beater, won, 68-65, over Minnesota State Moorhead on Friday night at Nemzek Fieldhouse. The win pushed them to 6-2 on the season and 2-0 in NSIC play. And maybe most importantly, it gave them three road wins on the season, already more than they've had in six years under head coach Dan Weisse.
"This was a grinder of a game, and we found a way to make enough plays to win the game," Weisse said. "I'm just proud of our guys, especially to do it on the road last year, and to do it in Moorhead that's a heck of a thing."
It looked like UMC might do it from the game's start, but in a less dramatic fashion. Cleary, who finished with a game-high 33 points, scored the game’s first seven and the Golden Eagles led by as many as 12 midway through the first half.
Late in the half, however, MSU Moorhead surged back to tie the score at 31, thanks to easy transition run-outs and second-chance points.
Cleary gave UMC a 36-33 lead and some momentum going into the locker room, however, nailing a signature stepback three to end the half.
The second half was back-and-forth, as it was MSU Moorhead guard Gavin Baumgartner’s turn to catch fire. He gave the Dragons their first lead with a pullup jumper from the elbow, just two of his 31 points, and had an answer for seemingly everything the Golden Eagles threw.
"He got a few too many good looks for my liking," Weisse said. "But give them credit. We got loose there in the second half, but he's a great player."
As MSU Moorhead keyed in hard on Cleary and UMC’s offense went stagnant, the Dragons looked to seize momentum, going up by four points with under two minutes remaining.
They wouldn't score again.
For Minnesota Crookston, Friday night's win is the rare buzzer-beating victory that might be remembered as much for what came before the final shot than the shot itself. That's because the Golden Eagles got to that point with defense and hustle — a rarity for them on the road in years past.
"Just had to stay together," said redshirt junior forward Chase Johnson. "They're gonna make runs, we're gonna make runs, just battle back."
Cleary took the ball 94 feet on UMC's second-to-last possession, scoring with a left-handed finish at the rim to tie the game at 65. The Dragons got the ball to Baumgartner, but Johnson threw his 240-pound frame in the line of fire, stood firm and drew the charge, giving the ball back to the Golden Eagles.
When Weisse called timeout to draw up the final play, it looked like a foregone conclusion where the ball was going.
"I was supposed to come down and make a play," Cleary said. "With about nine seconds on the clock I saw number 13, Siman Sem was creeping over, he was ready to double me. So right when I saw that, I knew I was gonna attack his hip, I got outside his hip and Ibu was wide open in the corner."
So Cleary fired cross-court to the lowest-scoring member of the Golden Eagles' starting lineup; a player who had hit just two threes all season.
The rest was jubilation for Minnesota Crookston; the latest statement made in a season just eight games old but already full of them.
UP NEXT: The Golden Eagles continue their road swing in Aberdeen, S.D. Saturday at 6 p.m. against Northern State.
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