In Post Falls coach Mike McLean’s eyes, one sequence in crunch time made all the difference.

“If Cole Rutherford doesn’t make that steal and go down for a layup, we don’t win that game,” he said.

Rutherford, a senior third-year starter for the Trojans, picked the pocket of Moscow’s Benny Kitchel at the perimeter, then raced downcourt and rolled one in off his fingertips to break a tie with less than half a minute to go.

The Bears missed a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left, and were forced to foul. The Trojans, who trailed for the majority of a thrilling second half Tuesday at Bear Den, escaped with a 46-41 Inland Empire League win in a matchup of the Class 4A and 5A runner-up teams at last year’s state tournament.

“I thought that was one of the first defensive plays we made all night,” McLean added of Rutherford’s heroics. “We were fortunate to get out of here with a win.

“As a team, (Moscow) played way better than we did.”

Rutherford led all players with 16 points and added five steals. After the Bears’ late foul, he collected an inbounds pass overhead, then put the cherry on top with a traditional three-point play. The driving 5-foot-11 guard also spearheaded a five-point comeback in the final three minutes.

“It just showed that he’s becoming sort of our undisputed leader on the court right now,” McLean said. “Everyone’s wondering who’s gonna make a play, and he goes out and does it.”

Moscow (3-4, 1-2) had a two-possession lead midway through the fourth quarter after Kitchel knocked down a midrange fadeaway and Dylan Rehder followed with a 3.

The Bears disrupted Post Falls’ balanced, explosive attack throughout the night, closing down on penetration plays and outrebounding the Trojans (7-3, 3-0) by six.

“They did a good job of not letting us shoot in rhythm,” McLean said. “They made it a little helter-skelter for us. Pretty soon, you miss a couple of easy ones and you start to question yourself. They were forcing our guys to take some shots, or not take some shots, because of their pressure.”

The hosts enjoyed a game-high six-point edge at 18-12 in the second quarter when Rehder and Sam Kees hit consecutive 3s. Rutherford guided an 8-0 Trojan spurt in response, answering with a long ball of his own and busting free for a transition layin to tie it at 20 going into the break.

Barrett Abendroth scored five quick points to open the third, then Kitchel tacked on an old-fashioned three-point play underneath off a screaming assist from Tyler Skinner. Again, a two-possession lead (with 45 seconds until the fourth) didn’t last.

“I think they’re one of the better teams in the state and it was a game we could’ve won, maybe should have won,” Bears coach Josh Uhrig said. “Those are the types of games that’ll make us better.”

Moscow held Post Falls to 19-for-53 shooting. But the Bears struggled more to get attempts off, and went 15-for-39.

Uhrig lamented some untimely offensive boards given up down the stretch, but liked how his defense was able to rattle Post Falls out of its offensive sets.

“Now, it’s just going and finishing it,” he said.

“We’d have stretches where we went three or four possessions with nothing. We’ve gotta just let past plays go and move on. They started being the aggressor and we started playing on our heels.”

The Bears were led by steady senior Kitchel, who had 12 points and three assists. Rehder contributed 10 points, Joe Colter grabbed six rebounds and point guard Jamari Simpson tallied six points, nine boards, two blocks and three assists.

Standout post Alex Horning totaled 11 points for the Trojans. Guard Caden McLean, a 12-point scorer on average, ended with seven.

The Bears and Trojans made impressive runs to their respective state title games last season before being handled in their respective finales — Moscow by Preston and Post Falls by Borah.

The IEL foes hadn’t met since January 2017, but the contest of runner-ups didn’t disappoint with its well-matched competition and tense finish.

“In this league, you have to steal them on the road, and win them all at home if you want to be the champion,” McLean said.

POST FALLS (7-3, 3-0)

Jaxon Anderson 0 0-0 0, Caden McLean 3 0-1 7, Riley Peterson 0 0-0 0, Cole Rutherford 6 3-7 16, Isaac Ballew 2 0-0 5, Jack Sciortino 0 0-0 0, James Lee 1 0-0 2, Alex Horning 5 0-0 11, Josiah Shields 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 4-10 46.

MOSCOW (3-4, 1-2)

Bryden Brown 0 0-0 0, Dylan Rehder 3 2-2 10, Sam Kees 1 0-0 3, Barrett Abendroth 2 0-0 5, Tyler Skinner 2 1-2 5, Benny Kitchel 4 3-3 12, Joe Colter 0 0-0 0, Jamari Simpson 3 0-1 6, Kel Larson 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 6-8 41.

Post Falls 8 12 10 16—46

Moscow 10 10 12 9—41

3-point goals — McLean, Rutherford, Ballew, Horning, Rehder 2, Abendroth, Kees, Kitchel.

JV — Post Falls def. Moscow.

Clark may be reached at cclark@lmtribune.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 627-3209.

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