By Jeff Linder
DES MOINES — All right, Linn-Mar fans. Loud and in unison.
“He’s a freshman!” (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap). “He’s a freshman!” (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap).
Marcus Paige scored a career-high 22 points, including 12 in a fourth-quarter rally, as second-ranked Linn-Mar edged No. 3 Bettendorf, 63-60, in a Class 4A semifinal at the boys’ state basketball tournament Friday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena.
“We kind of rode him down the stretch,” said Lions Coach Chris Robertson. “He’s pretty special. You don’t see many freshmen step up like that on this kind of stage. He carried us on his back.”
It sets up a long-awaited 1-vs.-2 battle for the 4A championship tonight at 8:05. No. 1 Ames (25-0) handled Johnston, 52-39, Friday.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Linn-Mar’s Zach Bohannon. “They’re a great team, but they’re not untouchable.”
Bohannon sat the final 4:56 after drawing his fifth foul, a charge with the game tied.
Bettendorf (21-4) scored the next five points for a 51-46 lead. But the stretch run began to Paige and the Lions.
Paige hit a pair of free throws. Then a 3-pointer. Then a drive to the left side of the basket that resulted in a three-point play.
Finally, two more free throws gave Linn-Mar the lead, 58-57, with 1:23 left.
They didn’t let it go.
Matt Bohannon and Jody Henton combined for 5 of 6 foul shots in the final minute to wrap up the win. Bettendorf’s Brian Bergman missed a 30-footer as the horn sounded.
The Lions prevailed despite torrid shooting by Bettendorf. The Bulldogs connected on 56 percent of their shots, 60 percent in the second half.
It wasn’t enough.
“Sometimes, you’ve just got to give credit to the opponent,” said Bettendorf Coach Kevin Skillett. “Paige was pretty much unstoppable. We didn’t have an answer for him.
“He’s a freshman!” (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap).
“I don’t really consider myself a freshman any more,” Paige said. “I consider myself part of a team. The only difference is maturity. I try to do what I do.”
Friday, he did what he does very well. He made 7 of 11 shots from the floor, 7 of 7 from the line.
The Lions converted 19 of 23 foul shots, good for 83 percent.
Zach Bohannon added 15 points. Henton had eight points and 10 rebounds.
Seth Van Deest posted 24 points and 11 rebounds for Bettendorf. George Dexter added 11 points.
The game was tight throughout, with eight lead changes. the largest margin was five points.
Linn-Mar led, 21-16, early in the second quarter before the Bulldogs battled back to take a 29-26 halftime edge.
Bettendorf led by five points on six occasions in the second half, the last at 55-50, before Paige took over.
“He’s got a great career ahead of him,” Zach Bohannon said. “I’m going to tell him what my teammates told me a couple years ago: You might never get another chance. You might as well take advantage of this one.”