ATLANTIC, Iowa — Before leaving practice, Harlan players are required to make 25 free throws.
It's a daily routine that is paying off for guard Caleb Rasmussen.
The 5-foot-11 junior converted 7 of 10 fourth-quarter free throws that proved critical down the stretch in Tuesday night's 57-50 win against Hawkeye Ten Conference foe Atlantic. The Cyclones led by 20 at one point in the third quarter, but the Trojans whittled the advantage to six with 2:57 left in the game.
That didn't rattle Rasmussen as he accounted for seven of Harlan's final nine points.
"We knew they were going to come back towards the end," said Rasmussen, who scored a team-leading 16 points while adding seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. "They're a good team, and we knew they'd go on a run towards the end, but we were all ready for it and waiting for it."
Harlan coach Mitch Osborn was pleased with the steady play of his point guard.
"We gave him a few minutes of rest in the first half, and in the second half, we didn't take him out because he was playing so well handling the ball," Osborn said. "He hit some huge free throws, and he stepped up and made them when we needed them. ... We had to have those to fight them off."
The win keeps Harlan (6-1) unbeaten in Hawk-10 play at 4-0, while Atlantic (8-1) suffered its first loss of the season and dropped to 3-1 in conference play. Glenwood and Carroll Kuemper entered play Tuesday atop the conference standings, both at 4-0.
To leave Atlantic victorious, Osborn knew he had to slow the Trojans' two primary scoring threats, Ryan Hawkins and Garrett Franken. Hawkins entered the night averaging 22.1 points per game. He finished Tuesday with 23 but was limited to five firsthalf points as Harlan built a 28-15 halftime lead. Franken averages 17.9 and finished Tuesday with 15.
It didn't help the Trojans that they converted 3 of 19 first-half field goals and finished the game shooting 31 percent from the field.
Despite the slow start, Atlantic gave itself a chance to make a move late in the contest.
Atlantic used a 21-7 run that spanned 7:48 between the third and fourth quarters to make it 48-42 with 2:57 remaining. Hawkins accounted for 14 points during the spurt.
However, the Trojans came no closer. Harlan made 9 of 15 free throws in the final 2:03.
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