WISCONSIN DELLS — An inability to completely handle defensive pressure was too much for the Portage boys basketball team to overcome Thursday night.

While they solved things early on, the Warriors were unable to handle the heat in the second half in a 64-55 loss to host Wisconsin Dells in a non-conference game.

“I thought we got better over time handling the pressure and were able to claw ourselves back into the game after getting down early,” Portage coach Ron Olson said. “But as the game went on, we had some unforced errors and that definitely hurt.”

Portage (4-5 overall) took a 22-21 lead into the break but quickly fell behind when Wisconsin Dells (8-0) scored 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.

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.

“It’s great to keep Erik and Craig on the floor, but the other guys were stepping up and doing a great job,” Olson said. “But they have some shooters. They have guys that have range. We didn’t get out and cover those guys and that’s the bottom line. They hit some shots, got that cushion they needed and were able to carry it out.”

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 struggling to handle the Chiefs’ defensive pressure, the Warriors had a hard time containing Brandt in the second half. The 6-foot-8 forward scored all of his team-high 14 points after the break.

“It was us playing good team defense,” Olson said of keeping the Chiefs’ leading scorer off the board in the first half. “But in the second half, I give all the credit to Brandt. He came to life, played with more aggressiveness on the perimeter and we were able to stop him at times, but at others he was able to finish and make a play.”

The Warriors struggled on the offensive end against the Chiefs’ pressure. Wisconsin Dells built an early 11-4 lead before the Warriors got back into things.

Portage took a 16-14 lead at the midway point of the half following a bucket by junior Eli Considine, who scored a team-high 19 points, before taking a lead into the intermission.

“I thought we got better over time handling the pressure and were able to claw ourselves back into the game after getting down early and that’s a credit to our team’s confidence on the defensive end,” Olson said.

For Olson, seeing that type of defensive pressure was crucial as the Warriors hadn’t dealt with something like that yet this season. Now that they have, he’s confident they won’t make as many mistakes down the road.

“I told our guys this was a great game as we kick off the second half of the season,” Olson said. “Now we’ve experienced it, we know how to play mentally strong with the basketball and it’s one of those things that you just have to learn from it and move forward.”


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.

Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR.