DES MOINES -- When they start examining the rulebook and compare it with the way things happened here Monday night, it really won't matter if a tough situation was handled correctly.
The bottom line is simple: MFL/Mar-Mac will advance to the Class 2A semifinals and Sioux Center is headed home after a controversial 73-72 thriller at the Iowa Boys State Basketball Tournament.
Leading 61-49 with 3:52 to play, the top-seeded Bulldogs of Coach Eric Dettbarn saw their lead dwindle to a single point at 70-69 when MFL senior guard Jacob Dotzler stepped up to shoot two free throws with 10 seconds on the clock.
Even though the fifth foul had been whistled on Sioux Center's Beau Boer, a top senior reserve, officials handed the ball to Dotzler before Boer had left the floor.
So, even though the MFL shooter missed both attempts and 6-7 freshman Steven Kragt speared the rebound for Sioux Center, the Warriors never got their crack at pulling out a win.
It wasn't that Coach Todd Arends' team had asked for a time-out, which they didn't happen to have left.
Rather, officials gathered at the bench and then ruled that Boer, by not exiting the game, had to be assessed a technical foul, giving MFL two more free throws and a subsequent possession that all but canceled out any chance for Sioux Center.
C.J. Mason, capping off a game-high 17-point performance, made both free throws for a 73-69 cushion. And, even a steal that enabled sophomore guard Andrew O'Donnell to beat the buzzer with a long three-pointer only managed to produce a final margin of one point.
"We got lucky,'' said Dettbarn, who coached back-to-back semifinalists in 1993 and '94 with NBA-bound Raef LaFrentz leading the way and has ushered the Bulldogs to their only other first-round victory in four state tournament appearances.
"I don't know the rule officially on the fact that the player didn't leave the floor with five fouls,'' said Dettbarn. "I figured they would take him out of the game and let my guy shoot the two free throws again. But they said it was a technical foul and we got two shots with the ball out-of-bounds.''
It certainly wasn't an easy scenario to stomach for Sioux Center Coach Todd Arends, who led the Warriors to a state championship in 2003.
"Take your heart out and step on it for a while and cut it up in a meat grinder and then throw it in the garbage,'' summed up a visibly flustered Arends. "That's how it feels.
"We played hard, we just didn't play well enough. Unfortunately it came down to that situation. Of course I'm interested in what the call is, but there's nothing going to change it. And we move on. We're big boys and these guys have gone through a whole lot more than basketball. They've gone through life.''
Arends noted that his team has fashioned its first state tournament season around the struggles of Sioux Center freshman coach Grant Vietor.
"They've watched Grant go through cancer and battle it with honor,'' said Arends.
Diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, Vietor had gone into remission when he learned in early December that the medical monster he's battling had returned.
"He's undergone a bone marrow transplant, three rounds of chemo and a stem cell,'' said Arends. "He got out on Friday and he wanted to be here. So, he's here.''
Vietor and the rest of the Sioux Center staff believed the 10th-ranked Warriors, even as the No. 8 seed, had a chance at a championship. In a wide-open 2A race, fifth-ranked MFL/Mar-Mac is the highest rated team to reach the tournament.
The Bulldogs, now 24-1, have won 21 in a row since Class 3A Decorah, a team with a losing record, dealt them their only loss. They had not faced a team with more than 17 wins or fewer than eight losses before this encounter with Sioux Center, which came into the action with an 18-6 mark.
"Sioux County basketball is really tough and we figured we'd be more physical, have better rebounding and better defense,'' said O'Donnell, who has started all season alongside four seniors. "But they showed a lot of toughness and they're very athletic.''
Clinging to a 30-27 halftime lead, MFL/Mar-Mac hit its first five shots of the second half, putting together a 12-2 surge that opened up a 42-29 advantage.
Sioux Center rallied to within 49-45 after finishing the third quarter on a 16-7 charge. However, the Warriors were never totally in synch in a game that saw them shoot just 36.9 percent. All-state hopeful T.J. Buyert, a 6-5 senior averaging just under 17 points, was limited to 12 points on a 4-for-18 shooting night, sinking just one of seven three-pointers before fouling out with 2:23 to play.
Boer, hitting nine of 10 free throws as the Warriors converted 19 of 25, had a team-leading 15 points off the bench and O'Donnell added 14. Meanwhile, Buyert had 10 rebounds while Boer and Kragt each had eight to help the Warriors win the board battle, 44-34.
Limited to 15 painful minutes by an early ankle sprain, meanwhile, was 6-2 senior wing Micah Lassen, Sioux Center's talented football quarterback and the second leading scorer on the team (11.2 ppg).
Dotzler added 13 points, Brandon Hertrampf 12 and Dalton Dettbarn 11 for the winners, who made seven of 13 three-pointers after missing all six tries from the arc in the opening quarter.
"This time of year, all you have to do is win by one point and move on and that's all I care about right now,'' said Eric Dettbarn, enjoying a memorable 25th season at MFL/Mar-Mac.
SIOUX CENTER (72)
T.J. Buyert 4-18 3-4 12, Micah Lassen 1-4 0-0 3, Andrew O'Donnell 4-14 5-8 14, Trevor Pieper 1-1 0-0 2, Patrick Van Muyden 2-3 0-0 4, Beau Boer 3-5 9-10 15, Zack Regnerus 0-0 0-0 0, Spencer Fritz 3-5 0-0 6, Jason Sneller 3-8 0-0 8, Travis Vermeer 0-0 0-0 0, Steven Kragt 3-7 2-3 8. Totals 24-65 19-25 72.
MFL MAR-MAC (73)
Carter Snitker 3-4 1-2 8, Jacob Dotzler 5-7 3-6 13, Dalton Dettbarn 4-9 0-0 11, C.J. Mason 4-14 6-8 17, Brandon Hertrampf 5-10 2-3 12, Charlie Fisk 0-0 0-0 0, Blake Winter 3-6 2-2 8, Jordan Vorwald 0-1 0-0 0, Cody Mason 0-3 4-8 4. Totals 24-54 18-29 73.
Score by quarters:
Sioux Center 14 13 18 27 -- 72
MFL Mar-Mac 13 17 19 24 -- 73
Three-point shots - Sioux Center 5-23 (Buyert 1-7, Lassen 1-4, O'Donnell 1-2, Boer 0-1, Fritz 0-2, Sneller 2-7), MFL Mar-Mac 7-19 (Snitker 1-1, Dettbarn 3-7, Mason 3-8, Hertrampf 0-1, Vorwald 0-1, Mason 0-1). Fouled out - Buyert, Boer. Rebounds - Sioux Center 44 (Buyert 10), MFL Mar-Mac 34 (Mason 9). Assists - Sioux Center 4 (O'Donnell 2), MFL Mar-Mac 13 (Mason 4). Turnovers - Sioux Center 9, MFL Mar-Mac 10. Total fouls - Sioux Center 24, MFL Mar-Mac 20. Technical foul -- Sioux Center (team)
Officials -- Steve Bebout, Pete Peterson, Scott Maine.