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Basketball: Denmark boys pull off stunning rally to avenge playoff loss
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Denmark head boys basketball coach Tyler Whitlock talks to his team during a stoppage in play Tuesday at home. (Photo by Jay Rooney Photography)

Denmark boys basketball coach Tyler Whitlock could wake up in a cold sweat at 3 a.m., and the nightmare that startled him awake wouldn't have been as bad as the start his team got off to Tuesday at home.

Hosting Mountain View in the first game on the floor since the Bears ended the Danes' 2021-22 season, Denmark fell behind 20-2 during the first quarter.

Freddy Krueger is less nightmarish than an 18-point deficit less than seven minutes into a revenge game.

“We found ourselves in a hole with our scrimmage and our game Saturday,” Whitlock said, referring to a pattern of slow starts this season. “You could get a sense from looking in their face that they looked lost and were thinking, ‘Why does this keep happening to us?’

“Tonight was the first time you could see them lock in and say, ‘What’s the next play? How can I affect the next play and make a play for my team?’ … I was proud of them for showing that mental toughness and improving in that area.”

The Danes' massive comeback that culminated in a 50-48 victory started with a bang, as 6-foot-10 center Keinan McFarlande slammed home a dunk to end a 16-0 run.

“It felt like there was something over the rim, where nothing was going to fall for us,” Whitlock said. “We were settling a little bit too much with tough shots and weren’t getting the ball inside.

“It was almost like he literally took the lid off the rim. That definitely gave us a big boost.”

McFarlande's dunk could have gone down as an inconsequential play, but a bench and crowd desperate for anything to cheer started to believe with each successive bucket, fueling a highly motivated Danes team.

Denmark (1-1) cracked down on defense, too.

After giving up 20 points in the opening stanza, the Danes allowed a total of 28 points over the final three quarters.

A switch to zone defense saw Denmark hold Mountain View, which won last year's first-round playoff meeting in overtime by a 57-56 final score, to single-digit points in each of the middle two periods.

“It’s not something that I like to do, but it was effective,” Whitlock said of the zone. “The thing with the zone that made it go so well was how well we communicated. They have some great shooters on their team. We were constantly talking about where they were coming from, so we always had a guy on the shooters.”

Despite scoring the final four points of the first quarter, the Danes still trailed 25-9 nearly midway through the second. A strong closing run, including holding the Bears scoreless over the final 3:30 of the half, saw the hosts pull to within 27-19 at the break.

With a quick start to the second half, Denmark narrowed the gap to a single point at 29-28. Even though the Bears ended what was a 16-2 run dating back to the first half, the Danes eventually took their first lead late in the third quarter.

A long-range effort from McFarlande, a senior, put Denmark up 34-33, but Mountain View wound up holding a slim one-point lead of its own entering the final frame.

The teams went back-and-forth the rest of the way, with the Danes surviving a never-ending possession early in the period. Every time the Bears missed a shot, Mountain View would either secure the rebound or the ball would end up out of bounds off Denmark.

At that point, it seemed as though the comeback bid might not be in the cards, with the Danes having hit a wall due to the overwhelming amount of energy exerted during the rally.

“The defensive play is not over until we own the ball,” Whitlock said of the roughly 90-second defensive set. “Those are things that moving forward, with practice and things, that we will continue to emphasize to improve on.”

While McFarlande matched Mountain View's Mike White for the game-high in points with 17, none of the other Danes cracked double-digits. Chad Molloy finished with eight points. Nobody else had more than five, but overall, five different players knocked down shots from beyond the arc.

“That’s the way that we’ve got to be,” Whitlock said of the balance. “We have multiple guys on the floor who can get 20 any given night. It makes it very difficult for teams to match up. …

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Denmark's Keinan McFarlande goes up for a shot against Mountain View during a non-region matchup Tuesday at home. (Photo by Jay Rooney Photography)
“That’s the kind of basketball we have to play. We have to be willing to make the unselfish play, get each other open, and then, when the opportunity presents itself, get to the rim and get our buckets.”

In the final minutes, Molloy nailed a 3-pointer, and Luke Jensen made 2 of 3 from the line after being fouled on an attempt from deep. Both gave Denmark the lead, albeit momentarily.

It took a banked shot from McFarlande in close and a free throw from Molloy to help the Danes overturn a 48-47 deficit in the final minute, as Mountain View's attempt at a game-winning half-court heave missed.

“That’s the team that put us out in the first round of state, so being able to get a little bit of that back,” Whitlock said of what made the win so special. “We wanted that game so bad. To be on the winning side of it was definitely a motivation for our guys, especially returning guys who got to play in that game.

“I’m hopeful we’re not satisfied. But at the same time, I hope it really builds our confidence to see that if we play the right way and do the right things, good things will happen.”