FARGO—Devils Lake didn't fade away when it got down by double digits in the first half on Saturday during an Eastern Dakota Conference boys basketball game at Fargo Shanley's McCormick Gymnasium.
Instead, the Firebirds mounted a huge comeback to begin the second half, but in the end, the Deacons were able to make enough adjustments and plays of their own to grab a 70-65 win.
Devils Lake trailed 43-25 with one minute, five seconds left in the first half after Shanley senior guard Shayne Dauenhauer completed a three-point play.
The North Dakota Class A, No. 5-ranked Firebirds answered with a 7-0 run capped off by a buzzer-beater layup by junior guard Jacob Mertens to close out the half.
Picking up right where it left off, Devils Lake started the second half with a 12-0 run fueled by Mertens, who completed a three-point play with 13:51 left to play to give the Firebirds a 44-43 lead.
"We talked at halftime that no lead is big enough against a team like Devils Lake," Shanley head coach Shane Alderman said. "We squandered the 18 point lead in the first half down to 11 at half and we knew they would make a run, but we had to treat it like a new half and a new start for us."
Shanley answered losing its lead with a 7-0 run of its own, but the Firebirds tied the game 50-50 with a 3-pointer from Mertens, who finished with a game-high 22 points.
"Our intensity was better," Devils Lake head coach Derek Gathman said of his squad's play in the second half. "We were ready to play. In the first half we looked flat-footed and we didn't play very well on defense early on. We talked about how Shanley is a team that likes to get to the rim. We were reaching and gambling."
The lead changed four different times in the final seven minutes of the game. Shanley took a 65-64 lead with 1:05 left when sophomore forward Jake Kava got a layup to fall on hard drive to the hoop.
Kava, who led the Deacons 21 points, said a key adjustment on defense for Shanley paid big dividends.
"We went back to how we were playing in the first half," Kava said. "Switching to the 2-3 zone helped us to get some stops because (Zach) Dahlen and Mertens are two really good players in our conference. They got a little loose early in the second half so the zone helped us out. We started to hit some shots and played tough defense."
Gathman said Shanley's zone led to minimal opportunities in the paint towards the end of the second half and that the Deacons did a much better job at contesting the Firebirds' 3-point attempts.
Devils Lake (9-5, 11-2 EDC) had a chance to tie the game twice in the final 13 seconds, but both attempts came up short—including a 3-pointer that just missed its mark by Mertens.
Dauenhauer added 16 points for the Deacons (8-5, 7-5).