Thomas fends off Owatonna’s swarming defense to lead Onalaska boys

2012-01-14T23:45:00Z Thomas fends off Owatonna’s swarming defense to lead Onalaska boysBy TODD SOMMERFELDT / La Crosse Tribune

Onalaska High School junior Matt Thomas didn't have the space to do much Saturday afternoon at the La Crosse Center.

The guard was chased and surrounded just about every time the ball reached his hands.

But with a quick release and quick first step, Thomas doesn't need much space, and that spoiled a good defensive effort by Owatonna, Minn.

Thomas scored 10 points during the final 3 minutes, 22 seconds of the second quarter, and that put the Hilltoppers in charge for good during a 54-46 victory at the Midwest Players Classic.

"We wanted to limit his touches and make him take tough shots," Owatonna coach Josh Williams said. "I think he hit some tough shots.

"We got away from what we wanted to do with him at the end of the second quarter, and that's when he really hurt us."

Thomas wound up with 17 points to lead four double-figure scorers for Onalaska

(10-1), the state's top-ranked Division 2 team.

Thomas gave the Hilltoppers control, and they never relinquished it.

Onalaska's lead jumped to as many as 18 points twice in the fourth quarter.

The Huskies (11-2) scored just six points on 2-for-8 shooting and had seven turnovers in the third quarter.

"We tried to force them to make shots from the perimeter, and we rebounded better," Onalaska coach Craig Kowal said of his team's second half. "I think (the Huskies) wore down a little in the second half, too."

Onalaska started the game with a whimper. It was tentative and had nine turnovers in the first quarter and fell behind by seven points.

The Huskies were attacking the hoop, and their first three baskets were made inside the paint.

"You can call part of it poor coaching," Kowal said. "We tried to pressure too much with our zone, and it led to some easy looks for them."

The Hilltoppers also received sparks from seniors Ben Socha and Zach Schmidt, who combined for 24 points.

They both had five in the first quarter, and Socha's, which came on a baseline jump shot and then a three-point play as time expired, were huge.

After completing his three-point play as the only player on the court, Socha had cut Owatonna's lead to 14-12.

"They went on a run, and we were pretty shaky on defense before our little run," Socha said. "Our defense picked up after that, and I think what won us the game was the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second quarter."


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