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AURORA, Ill. - Freshman Justin Ward recorded a double-double, scoring a career-high 33 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Lakeland College men's basketball team to a 71-66 victory over Aurora University in the Northern Athletics Challenge Game in Aurora, Ill.
The Muskies (16-9, 10-6 NAC) clinched the No. 5 seed in the NAC Tournament after going on a 7-2 run late in the first half. Ward (Wisconsin Dells, Wis.) hit a layup to tie the game with one minute, 22 seconds left in the half. The 6-foot-8 forward then hit a last-second shot to take a 29-27 advantage heading into the locker room.
In the second half, Lakeland went up by as many as 12 points before Aurora made a push to take a two point lead with 9 minutes, 59 seconds left in the game. The Spartans would only go up by four as the Muskies tied the game on a clutch 3-pointer by freshman Tal Diekvoss (Beaver Dam, Wis.). Sophomore Eric Strzok (Thorp, Wis.) gave Lakeland the edge when he hit a jumper to regain the lead.
"Justin played like an all-conference player tonight," said Lakeland head coach Aaron Aanonsen. "He played aggressively on the offensive end and got some big offensive rebounds for us. He was the difference maker tonight."
Aanonsen thought the team played well and was happy with its defensive efforts.
"It was a great team win, especially on the road. We didn't shoot that well, but we found a way to win. We contested Aurora's shots and played great team defense."
Tal Diekvoss added 13 points and four rebounds while junior guard Josh Regal (Suring, Wis.) added nine points and nine assists.
For the game Lakeland shot 35.1 percent from the field, 31 percent from behind the arc and 71.4 percent from the charity stripe. Aurora shot 39.1 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from the 3-point range, but struggled from the line, shooting only 62.5 percent.
Lakeland returns to action as they head into the NAC Tournament and face No. 4 seeded Edgewood College on Wednesday, Feb. 23 in Madison, Wis. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.