PORTAGE — Beaver Dam’s Badger North Conference orientation didn’t go the way the Golden Beavers had hoped on Friday night.
Portage senior Craig Steele made sure the host Warriors welcomed the Golden Beavers to the league with a loss, scoring a game-high 25 points to lead Portage to a 52-44 victory at Portage High School.
Portage, coming off a pair of two-point losses to Randolph and Madison Edgewood to open the season, was the better team right from the opening tip. A pair of early free throws from Beaver Dam senior Dillon Livingston put the Warriors in a 2-0 hole, but Steele quickly answered with a 3-pointer to give his team a 3-2 lead, and Portage never trailed again the rest of the night.
Beaver Dam head coach Tim Ladron said Portage outplayed his team.
“They wanted it more than we did. They got on the floor for loose balls; they beat us on the glass,” Ladron said. “I thought Portage played very well, and to be honest, we didn’t play very well.”
Steele said his team wanted to avoid a 0-3 start.
“We came off two hard losses, losing by two. We knew that we just had to come out and get it,” Steele said. “We knew this was a big game, the home opener, a big crowd. We had to come out and play hard.”
Portage (1-0 Badger North, 1-2 overall) started to take control late in the first half. A 6-0 spurt capped by a steal and layup by junior Eli Considine, who finished with 10 points, made it 23-16 with 3:35 to go in the half. Portage’s defense also played a key role in the run, drawing a pair of offensive fouls on Beaver Dam (0-1, 2-1) on consecutive possessions during the stretch.
Portage led 27-19 at the break and took its first double-digit lead on Nolan Paul’s bucket in the lane to open the second half. Steele followed with a baseline drive for a layup while being fouled, sending him to the free throw line, where he completed the three-point play to give Portage a 32-19 lead.
Portage took its biggest lead of the night at 38-24 when Steele sank one of two free throws with 9:54 to play, but Beaver Dam turned up its defensive pressure and made a run. The Golden Beavers scored 10 straight points to get back within four. The spurt was keyed by senior Conner Cullen, who scored all five of his points during the stretch as the Golden Beavers pulled within 38-34 with 6:20 to play.
Portage scored the next five points to go back in front by nine, but two quick buckets by senior Sam Wilke, who led Beaver Dam with 19 points, made it 43-38 with 2:20 to play.
From there, Beaver Dam’s comeback hopes started slipping away, as Steele scored on a layup to make it 45-38, and baskets by Considine and Nolan Paul put Portage up 49-39 with 1:20 remaining.
Beaver Dam finally made its first 3-pointer of the game when Adam Bird canned one to make it 49-42 with 1:08 to play, and after a Portage turnover, Wilke scored on a layup to make it 49-44 with 53 seconds left. That would be Beaver Dam’s final points of the night though, as the Golden Beavers missed two good looks at the basket with 20 seconds remaining, allowing Portage to put the game away from the free throw line.
Ladron said his team did a good job of cranking up the defensive pressure in the second half, but couldn’t keep it up down the stretch.
“Our press was good. That was the intensity we needed to play with at the beginning and we didn’t do that,” Ladron said. “Then obviously, when you put yourself in that big of a hole, you make that type of a run, you run out of gas pretty quick, and in the last couple of minutes, I think that’s what happened there.”
The Warriors entered the game knowing they couldn’t let Wilke beat them. Wilke had only five of his 19 points at the half.
“We just knew that if we could slow him down — not contain him and stop him completely — but just slow him down and keep the other guys in check, we would be good,” Steele said.
The Warriors were good, especially Steele, who made a pair of early 3-pointers, which may have opened up some opportunities for him and his teammates inside as the game progressed.
“He did a nice job. He found different places to score,” Ladron said. “He beat us from the outside and then he got us inside in the second half. He’s a nice player. We certainly knew that. On both ends, he was tough tonight.”
PORTAGE 52, BEAVER DAM 44
Beaver Dam 19 25 - 44
Portage 27 25 - 52
BEAVER DAM (44) – James Jimenez 1, Sam Wilke 19, Dillon Livingston 10, Connor Cullen 5, Adam Bird 3, Jordan Schwanke 2, Justin Douma 2, Marshal McGauley 2. TOTAL (FGM FTM-FTA PTS): 16 11-22 44.
PORTAGE – Anderson 2, Isakson 6, Walker 2, Paul 7, Considine 10, Steele 25. TOTAL (FGM FTM-FTA PTS): 19 12-23 52.
3-pointers – BD 1 (Adam Bird 1), P 2 (Craig Steele 2). Total fouls – BD 18, P 20. Fouled out – None.