SPARTA—The Tomah Timberwolves have failed to crack the 50-point barrier for four straight games.
They are 4-0 during that stretch.
The Timberwolves once again applied the defensive screws and defeated Sparta 49-44 in a Mississippi Valley Conference boys basketball game Friday at Sparta High School.
Tomah improved to 7-2 overall and 2-1 in the MVC.
The Timberwolves have allowed 43, 45, 30 and 44 points in their last four contests. Tomah coach Brad Plueger said his team’s ability to mix defenses and protect the paint make it difficult for opponents to score.
“It’s the pack defense ... allowing the ball to reverse, but keeping the ball out of the lane and make teams shoot from the outside and then rebound,” Plueger said. “We can do all three of those things.”
The defense was at its peak early in the second half. Sparta took a 23-20 lead into intermission but scored just two points in the first eight minutes of the second half as Tomah gained a 28-25 edge after five straight points from Kyle Kroener.
Sparta’s Nick Church responded with a bucket that cut the gap to 28-27, but Josh Dahlke scored the game’s next six points for a 34-27 Tomah cushion.
The Spartans never got closer than three points after that. A three-point play by Bryce Edwards cut the margin to 43-40 with 1:20 left, but two foul shots by Trey Gnewikow with 1:10 left and another two by Dahlke with 41 seconds remaining put the contest out of reach.
Tomah struggled in the first half due to cold shooting and early foul trouble. Dahlke was whistled for his second foul just 3 ½ minutes into the contest and spent most of the first half on the bench. The Timberwolves held a 12-7 lead after a Mason Brandt 3-pointer, but Sparta outscored Tomah 16-8 the rest of the half.
Dahlke stayed out of foul trouble in the second half, and Plueger said his presence was critical after halftime, especially on defense. He said Dahlke is an effective last line of defense against “blow-by” drives to the basket.
“When you have a rim protector like that ... it definitely makes a difference,” Plueger said.
Dahlke also made a difference on the offensive end despite scoring a modest nine points.
“He has done such a good job of distributing the ball on the offensive side,” Plueger said.
The Timberwolves also got a big game from Trevor Shutter, who led all scorers with 15 points. He said it’s and advantage for the Timberwolves to pair Shutter with Dahlke in the post.
“You could see his strength by how he controlled the lane ... rebounding and finishing,” Plueger said.
Kroener finished with 12 points, 10 of which came after halftime.
Alex Burke was Sparta’s leading scorer with 11 points. He drilled three 3-pointers.
Sparta dropped to 4-7 overall and 0-4 in the MVC.
The Timberwolves still struggle with free throw shooting and generating shots off their halfcourt sets, and Plueger said the team “needs to execute better on offense.” However, he’s proud of the way the team handles itself in close games.
“Our execution in these games has become a lot higher because we’ve had a chance to play multiple games like this,” Plueger said. “With a senior-dominated team, we go through these situations in practice a lot.”
The Timberwolves travel to Mauston Tuesday for a nonconference game and return to the MVC schedule Friday for a home contest against Onalaska. Tipoff is 6:15 p.m., and it’s the opener of a boys/girls varsity doubleheader.
TOMAH 49 SPARTA 44
Tomah—T. Gnewikow 5, Kroener 12, Brandt 3, Dahlke 9, Brey 5, Shutter 15.
Sparta—Burke 11, Church 10, Brown 4, Allen 6, Raymer 6, Yahnke 2, Edwards 5.
Three-point goals—Brandt, T. Gnewikow, Burke 3, Allen.
Tomah 20 29−49
Sparta 23 21−44
MVC BOYS BASKETBALL
Result of Jan. 4
Central 83 Aquinas 59
Results of Jan. 5
Tomah 49 Sparta 44
Onalaska 71 Logan 46