Defensive pressure was the name of the game for the Wisconsin Dells boys basketball team Thursday night.
While they had their press broken during the first half, the Chiefs were able to right the ship and clamp down in the second half for a 64-55 win over Portage in a non-conference game at Wisconsin Dells High School.
“It was a good win against a very good team,” Wisconsin Dells coach Brad Rohling said. “It’s very hard to simulate the pressure they put on in the half-court in practice. You can talk about all you want and try to simulate it, but when the lights come on it’s hard to do.”
The Chiefs (8-0 overall) excelled early on the first half but ultimately succumbed to the Warriors’ pressure and went into halftime down 22-21. Wisconsin Dells quickly reclaimed the lead, scoring the first six points of the second half. Following a bucket by sophomore Brett Hirst, senior Tanner Brandt added back-to-back putbacks to give the Chiefs a 27-22 lead with 16 minutes left to play.
Portage senior Craig Steele temporarily stopped the bleeding with a mid-range jumper on the Warriors’ ensuing possession, but the Chiefs countered. Wisconsin Dells rattled off another 6-0 run, capped by a steal and layup by senior Alex Weiss, to go up 33-24 with 14:04 to go.
The teams continued to counter-punch over the next 6½ minutes as the Warriors got back into things thanks to their bench. With Steele and senior Erik Isakson both sitting with four fouls, the Warriors trimmed the Chiefs’ lead to 45-42 with 7:30 left following back-to-back layups by sophomores Matthew Miles and Brett Walker.
That was as close as the Warriors got, however, as the Chiefs again roared back. Wisconsin Dells answered Portage’s push with a 12-2 run, including 3-pointers by Brandt, senior Jackson Sveum and sophomore Bryson Funmaker, to take a 57-45 lead with 4:15 to play.
“In the second half, things opened up a bit,” Rohling said. “I think we wore them down some; passes became easier for us to make and drives became a little bit easier. We got the ball inside to Tanner, they had some foul trouble so we wanted to take advantage of that, and then we started hitting some 3s.”
With a double-digit lead, Wisconsin Dells was able to hold the Warriors at bay over the waning minutes. Portage got its deficit down to single digits at 59-50 with 2 minutes left following a free throw by senior Grant Garrigan and layup by Isakson, but the Chiefs salted the game away at the line and limited the Warriors’ offensive opportunities.
Along with clamping down on the Warriors, the Chiefs turned to their leading scorer in Brandt during the second half. The 6-foot-8 forward, who is averaging 19.1 points per game, scored all of his team-high 14 points after the break.
“He was more reliant on our offense to get him the ball, rather than try to go one-on-one without moving the defense,” Rohling said. “They’re a good defensive team; you’re not going to pass the ball one time and get all the way to the rim so we needed to trust each other a little more and get some more ball reversals.”
The Chiefs did exactly that, with Sveum adding 14 points and senior Alex Weiss hit double-figures, chipping in 12. For Rohling, that multitude of scoring has been crucial to the Chiefs success this year.
“We’re building depth which is great,” he said. “When you play us, I don’t think you can just try to stop one kid, which makes us a tough team to defend.”
Along with having that depth, Rohling knows how crucial games like Thursday night’s against the Warriors can be to the Chiefs’ push for a deep playoff run.
“It’s great. Just the competition level of going against a real physical, aggressive team is only going to make us better,” he said. “You just have to battle through mistakes like we did tonight and not let it affect you.”
WISCONSIN DELLS 64, PORTAGE 55
Portage 22 33 — 55
Wisconsin Dells 28 36 — 64
PORTAGE — Garrigan 1 1-2 3, Considine 8 3-4 19, Steele 7 3-4 17, Isakson 3 0-0 7, Walker 2 0-0 5, Miles 2 0-0 4. Totals 23 7-11 55.
WISCONSIN DELLS — Weiss 5 0-2 12, Brandt 6 1-4 14, Mackinnis 0 2-2 2, McClolskey 1 0-0 2, Sveum 6 0-2 14, Hirst 3 2-4 7, Funmaker 3 0-3 8, Eck 0 2-2 2, Anchor 1 0-0 3. Totals 24 7-19 64.
3-point goals — P 2 (Isakson 1, Walker 1), WD 9 (Weiss 2, Brandt 1, Sveum 2, Hirst 1, Funmaker 2, Anchor 1). Total fouls — WD 16, P 18. Fouled out — Steele.