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It was sloppy, it was low-scoring, but it was an important win nonetheless for the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Baraboo/Sauk County men’s basketball team on Wednesday.

The Fighting Spirits hosted UW-Marshfield Stevens Point for a Wisconsin Collegiate Conference West Division game where Baraboo controlled the second half en-route to a 60-54 victory. The win put the Spirits atop the conference with a mark of 3-2.

“I told the guys at the beginning of the game, this is for conference,” UW-Baraboo coach Scott Gilbeck said. “And this sets us up for the second half of the season. We don’t want to be the team that’s in the middle or at the bottom.”

Both teams struggled with turnovers in a low-scoring first half. The Marauders (3-3 overall, 2-3 WCC West) took a 7-4 lead after a few passes and scores in the paint while Baraboo’s offense was getting used to each other as it was missing Jamarcus Laster and Alex Serrano. McFarland native Bruce Hunt ended the Spirits’ scoring drought with a bucket in the paint to make it 9-6, while Tre Sullivan added a score in transition but Baraboo still trailed.

UW-Marshfield took advantage of some Baraboo foul trouble and scored more on the inside to go up 18-10 before back-to-back buckets from UW-Baraboo’s Assante Child put the Spirits back in it. The Marauders had the momentum going into the break however, leading 23-16.

“I would say we were shooting 20 to 25 percent from the floor,” Gilbeck said of the first half. “Of my 10 years of being here, I think this is the lowest point value we’ve ever had. So it’s a wakeup call. But the amazing thng was we were only down by seven (at halftime).”

Both sides picked up the pace in the second half. Six-foot-four sophomore John Franklin started finishing more in the inside, one of which cut Baraboo’s deficit to three at 25-22 which forced a UW-Marshfield timeout. Franklin would add a steal-and-score moments later while a jumper from Chinedum Maduka tied the game at 26. The Fighting Spirits grabbed their first lead of the night when the ball was kicked out to Christian Tikkanen who drained a 3-pointer to go up 30-28. UW-Marshfield continued to get good looks in the paint but several shots weren’t falling. Tikkanen added to Baraboo’s 12-2 run with another bucket from downtown and the Spirits maintained a 10-point lead for several minutes.

Gilbeck credited crisper ball movement for the improved offense in the second half.

“The biggest thing we talked about was rotating the ball from side-to-side; getting more touches. There were probably two possessions in the first half where we actually put together five or six passes and then we took a shot. And there was a rhythm. So we isolate those situations and say hey, we need to bring those forth to the second half.”

The Marauders started to get some of their shots to fall, while also capitalizing on a couple of turnovers from the Spirits to pull to within 48-41. Tikkanen hit two from the line with 2:30 left but UW-Baraboo’s Geiontae Glosson fouled out of the game and UW-Marshfield continued to threaten. The Marauders got within five after Jack Bezlyk converted a rebound off a missed free throw, but the Spirits returned the favor with a rebound off a missed 3-pointer, ending with a dish and finish from Franklin to make it 55-48 with 1:07 remaining. The score was enough to keep Marshfield at bay in the final minute.

“He’s our captain. That was something I mentioned at halftime — our offense had to go through John,” Gilbeck said. “Not that he had to score, but to control tempo and see the court. And he went to his bread and butter move, drop-step left handed jump hook, and got the seal.”

Maduka and Franklin scored 12 points apiece to lead UW-Baraboo, while Tikkanen and Jaylin Deggins each added 10. Jared Seemann led UW-Marshfield with 18, followed by Bezlyk with 16.

The Fighting Spirits (5-3, 3-2) will begin the second half of the season Jan. 4 with a home game against UW-Sheboygan.

Follow Chris on Twitter @chris_CNsports or contact him at 608-745-3515

Regional Sports Reporter