HANCOCK - A valiant effort by the Finlandia University men's basketball team went for naught Tuesday afternoon against Lakeland College.
But FU coach Terry Smith said the effort by his team was "as good as any in my three years here."
"I told the kids afterward this was the proudest I've been of a team," Smith commented after his team's 81-76 loss. "We overachieved big-time ... with just six healthy guys."
After holding the lead much of the game against a much taller LC team, Finlandia suffered a lethal blow when senior center Dominic Morrow exited via fouls with 4:58 remaining.
Muskies coach Aaron Anonsen said the departure of Morrow was a turning point.
"He (Morrow) is a really good player and we struggled guarding him," Anonsen noted. "When he left, it gave us some momentum. And we were able to get ball inside to Justin (Ward)."
Ward, a 6-foot-9 senior center, did much of the damage down the stretch.
His basket and four free throws, plus a pair of triples from Joey Burris helped overcome a 67-65 disadvantage and send the Wisconsin squad home with a win.
"It was tough holding down their big guy (Ward) without Dominic," Smith said. "They just battled, battled and battled ... they just ran out of gas."
Now 2-14 on the season, the Lions jumped out of the gate quickly. They led by as many as 18 points at 29-11 with eight minutes left in the half behind the outside shooting of Brandon Robinson and the inside work of Morrow.
The two combined for 28 points in the opening 20 minutes, which ended with FU up by a 43-34 margin.
"I don't know if we had bus legs or what," Anonsen said. "Finlandia played really well, they did some good things to stay ahead most of the game."
The size of the Muskies began to take effect as the game progressed and they steadily sliced the deficit. The three-pointer by Burris gave them the lead for good at 68-67.
Finlandia rallied afterward, getting a key triple from reserve Craig Raasio. But Lakeland kept hitting big shots down the stretch.
Robinson led the Lions with 20 points - 17 in the opening half. Morrow added 18 points and eight rebounds, while Keith Arnold chipped in 11 points and 11 rebounds in a solid showing. Matt Strong and Jonah Benoit each netted eight points.
Jame Oshkeshequoam paced the 8-3 victors with 21 points. Stan McKenzie had 16 markers, while Ward was good for 13 points and team-best nine boards.
FU - down to six healthy players - returns to action Saturday with a home game against the College of St. Scholastica.