BLACK RIVER FALLS — The Black River Falls High School boys basketball team had won 10 straight games and the Tigers’ Ethan Anderson had yet to score fewer than 20 points in any contest this season.
However, that was before the Tigers ran into Tomah’s pack-line defense.
Tomah’s clog-the-lane defense limited Black River Falls to seven points over the final 16 minutes of the first half and produced a 66-51 nonconference victory over the Tigers on Thursday, Feb. 1, at the Black River Falls Field House. The Tigers didn’t stay down long, however, as Black River Falls bounced back with a 70-60 Coulee Conference victory over West Salem on Tuesday, Feb. 6, thanks to a game-high 26 points from Ethan Anderson.
The victory over West Salem kept the Tigers in first place in the Coulee Conference at 8-1, and pushed their overall mark to 14-5.
Against Tomah, Black River Falls coach Dave Cowley said his team had trouble getting to the basket against the Timberwolves’ tall and rangy defenders.
“They packed the lane really well,” Cowley said. “We typically take the ball hard to the hoop, and we did a poor job of spreading them out and going to the glass. I think we were a little intimidated by their size and afraid to have our shots blocked.”
Black River Falls took a 5-0 lead less than two minutes into the contest but didn’t score again for 7½ minutes as the Timberwolves mounted a 19-0 run. After Black River Falls cut the gap to 21-10, Tomah made three 3-pointers in the final five minutes of the half to take a 33-12 lead at intermission.
Anderson scored eight points in the first half but took just five shots. Tomah coach Brad Plueger said his defense did a good job of keeping Anderson out of the lane and forcing him to give up the ball.
“I’m really proud of how our kids realized they could defend that team and (Anderson) at that kind of level,” Plueger said.
Tomah’s advantage ballooned to 47-23 on a field goal by Seth Huneck with 11:30 left. Black River Falls then rattled the Timberwolves with a full-court press that produced enough live-ball turnovers to shrink Tomah’s cushion to 49-36 with 7:53 remaining.
However, Black River never got closer than 13 points. When the Timberwolves managed to beat the Tigers’ press, their halfcourt offense squeezed out several long possessions that re-established their preferred tempo.
“There were two times tonight when the pace of the game got really fast, and you could see the kids go, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa,’” Plueger said. “I thought our kids adjusted so well.”
Tomah (11-6) missed just enough free throws to encourage the Tigers to press and foul deep into the second half, and the outcome wasn’t 100 percent certain until Josh Dahlke converted a breakaway dunk with 1:41 left to give Tomah a 61-44 advantage
The Tigers outscored the Timberwolves 39-33 in the second half, which was played at a pace more to the Tigers’ liking.
“We’re a much better team when we can play up-tempo,” Cowley said. “We’re not a very good slow-down team. We played right into their hands in the first half.”
Dahlke led all scorers with 23 points. Anderson, who became Black River Falls’ all-time leading scorer in a victory over Sparta Tuesday, led the Tigers with 18 points. Kyle Kroener guarded Anderson for most of the game, and Cowley said Kroener “did as good a job as anyone who guarded (Anderson) this year, and if he did get beat, he had a supporting cast ... waiting under the basket.”
It was an important victory for the Timberwolves, who were coming off a rugged stretch of tough Mississippi Valley Conference losses against Onalaska, La Crosse Central and La Crosse Logan.
“Our kids were excited and ready for the challenge tonight,” Plueger said. “We have 10 wins now, which is the most since 2004-05, and our goal is 12 or more ... it’s a quality win for us.”