PORTAGE — Sauk Prairie boys basketball coach Sean McGann didn’t mince words in describing the Eagles’ first-half performance against Portage on Thursday.
The second-year coach was “really, extremely disappointed with our effort,” and challenged his group to reply in the second half. The Eagles did just that, roaring to a 56-32 win over the Warriors in a Badger North Conference game at Portage High School. Senior Trevor Spray scored a game-high 23 points and senior Parker Breunig added 10 points to lead the Eagles.
“I really challenged our guys and they responded,” McGann said. “You could just tell by the look in their eyes they wanted it, and we started playing hard on defense. I think in the first half we thought we were too cool to play hard, and I never want to coach a team like that, and I was proud of our effort in the second half.”
The two teams slugged it out the first 18 minutes, with the Eagles ultimately taking a 24-21 lead into halftime. After briefly battling in the start of the second half, Portage (2-10, 1-6 Badger North) struggled to keep pace.
Sauk Prairie junior Brandt Wilson opened the half with a layup for a 26-21 lead before Portage senior Brett Walker and sophomore Isaac Paul got back-to-back buckets to cut the deficit to 26-25 with 16 minutes, 52 seconds left to play.
The Eagles (5-6, 4-3) started to take off after that however, ripping off a 10-0 run. After a Euro-step layup by senior Ben German, Wilson and Breunig buried consecutive 3-pointers to push the lead to 34-25 with just under 15 minutes remaining.
Sauk Prairie junior Isaac Breunig kept things going with a pair of free throws before Spray finished things off with a layup for a 38-25 lead at 13:50. One of McGann’s challenges for the group was to score on two of its three opening possessions and force three straight defensive stops, what the Eagles’ call a ‘turkey.’
Sauk Prairie passed with flying colors, including forcing five straight Warriors’ stops, including a pair of turnovers.
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“I think it was really just starting on the defensive end,” McGann said. “To get Brandt (Wilson) inside, who was kind of floating, I challenged him and he did it. He responded with a layup right away, Spray was a monster getting inside and our guys just kind of fed off of them.”
A layup by Portage senior Matthew Miles ended the Warriors’ woes and cut the lead to 38-27, but it only briefly paused Sauk Prairie’s surge. Spray converted a three-point play on the other end, sparking a 12-1 stint to stretch the lead to 50-28 with 5:40 remaining. Miles again ended the run with another layup at 5:32 to cut the lead to 50-30, but the Eagles were able to bleed the clock from there and see out the remaining time for the win.
Helping Sauk Prairie shutdown the Warriors was Spray, who helped nullify Walker, holding the Warriors’ leading scorer to just five points. Spray and the rest of the Eagles kept Portage without a 3-pointer during the second half and forced tough perimeter shots, a cornerstone of the Sauk Prairie defense.
“That’s something we kind of hang our hat on, taking away easy 3-point shots,” McGann said.
That wasn’t the case in the first half as the Warriors raced out to an early 8-3 lead, including two 3-pointers by Sheppard. The Eagles ultimately answered and after trading punches, seized an 18-13 lead on a Parker Breunig jumper.
After a putback by Portage junior Logan Breunig, Walker canned a straight-on 3-pointer to tie things at 18 with 4:25 to go. Portage sophomore Isaac Paul gave the Warriors’ a 21-19 lead with a triple of his own at 3:40, but the Eagles closed the half with five straight points by Spray for a halftime lead and never relinquished.
Along with Spray and Parker Breunig, the 6-foot-7 Wilson chipped in nine points, and while German had just four points, McGann lauded the senior’s performance.
“I was really proud of in the second half with his leadership; he may not fill up the box score, but he was a great leader and we need a guy like that,” he said.
Even with the win, the Eagles’ fifth in their last seven games, McGann knows the group can improve.
“Yes it’s great to learn in wins, but we know we need to be better in the first half if we’re going to contend for the team we want to be,” he said.
Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or contact him at 608-745-3512.