TOLONO — The comeback spirit was contagious Saturday night at the Kesslers Shootout.
After watching St. Joseph-Ogden battle back against Monticello, the Rockets did their best impersonation of SJ-O in the nightcap, overcoming a 10-point deficit to beat Casey-Westfield 65-55.
Aaron Larson scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for Unity. His 19 second-half points were pivotal, and he earned game MVP.
"We came out with more energy, got the ball down in the post and shot the ball really well. Just played well overall," Larson said. "They had some really big guys. It feels good to get this one."
Casey-Westfield led 6-2 early and by as many as 10 in the first half, but Unity trimmed its deficit to 28-24 just before halftime.
"We didn't play well in the first quarter. They were more physical and they got the loose balls, but we did a good job in the second quarter playing better defense," Rockets coach Bill Ipsen said. "At halftime I challenged them, I said, 'We need to play harder, with a little more spirit.' "
After the break, Unity pushed the tempo and quickly took the lead. A 7-0 run early in the half propelled the Rockets to a 33-30 lead. By the end of the third quarter, the Rockets led 47-38 thanks to hustle and another eight points from Larson.
Casey-Westfield went on a 10-run, making it 55-50, but Unity recovered and held on.
"I liked the way they battled back, got the lead and held it," Ipsen said.
The Rockets worked well in transition during their third-quarter run.
Guards Alex Thorson and Matt Restad played stingy defense and fed the ball forward, helping Larson reach the game high in scoring. Senior Taylor Black added 18 points.
"The defense helped us get out and run the floor better," Ipsen said. "We made good passes to get points."
The win was Unity's first in three years at the shootout. The Rockets lost their last two shootout games, each 60-54, to Orion and Marshall, respectively.