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Justin Ward(Jr.-Wisconsin Dells, Wis.) scored 21 points and had a big three-point play in the final minute and Lakeland College remained undefeated with an 86-81 win over Concordia University Wisconsin Wednesday night at Woltzen Gymnasium.
Ward capped a huge all-around game by putting the Muskies ahead for good. Lakeland improved improve to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the Northern Athletics Conference, while rival Concordia dropped to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in NAC play.
In a game with several twists and turns, the Muskies saw a 17-point second half lead evaporate. Lakeland also trailed by a double-digit margin for a good share of the first half, but used a 31-4 run wrapping around haltime to take control of the game early in the second half.
The final minutes were frenetic as the Falcons had fought back from a 67-50 deficit. Concordia capped an 8-0 run with a layup by Casey Kegley to take a 79-78 lead with 1:07 left, the Falcons' first lead of the second half.
On its next possession, Lakeland got the ball inside to Ward, who finished not far from a triple-double with 21 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots. Ward scored and was fouled with 41 seconds left and converted the free throw to make it 81-79. He then collected the defensive rebound after the Falcons missed on their next time down the floor, and the Muskies made five of six free throws in the final 31 seconds.
Lakeland rallied after trailing by as many as 12 points in the first half. The Muskies trailed 38-26 with 4:27 left in the half but finished the half on a 17-0 run. Lakeland extended that lead early in the second half, going ahead 57-42 after two free throws by Ward and eventually pushing the margin to 17 points after Joey Burris (So.-Kiel, Wis.) converted a three-point play with 12:28 left in the game.
The final minutes changed after Lakeland star Jake Schwarz (Sr.-Sheboygan, Wis.) left the game with just under 10 minutes left after a collision near midcourt where two players dove for a loose ball and hit heads. Schwarz sustained a gash to his forehead and had to leave the game and did not return after scoring 17 points.
Burris aided Ward and Schwarz in providing a three-headed scoring punch, tallying 18 points. Zach Van Engen (Fr.-Sheboygan Falls, Wis.) added nine points off the bench, including 7-of-9 free throw shooting, and Germell Heard (Sr.-Milwaukee, Wis.) chipped in six points and five rebounds off the bench..
Lakeland shot 29-for-62 for the game (48.6%), cooling off after hitting at a 53.3% clip in the first half (16-of-30). The Falcons shot 43.7% for the night (31-of-71), unable to build off of a big advantage early when Concordia hit nine of its first 16 field goal attempts.
With Schwarz's 17 points against Concordia, the Muskie senior forward now has 1,696 career points. He is just 23 points from tying the NAC career scoring record of 1,719 points, currently held by Ben Wisniewski of Edgewood College (2008-12).
Mark Pace of Concordia scored 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds to register game highs in both categories. Steve Zielinski added 13 points for the Falcons.
The Muskies put their undefeated record on the line Saturday when they travel to Marian University in Fond du Lac for an NAC game Saturday at 4:15 p.m.