After losing two contests to ranked teams in a seven-day period, Tomah High School boys basketball coach Brad Plueger has a message for his players: Stay the course.
Plueger said his team still has lots to accomplish after losing a 69-52 Mississippi Valley Conference decision to La Crosse Central Tuesday at Tomah High School. The Timberwolves’ overall record fell to 9-5 and 3-3 in the MVC, but they still have a chance at a winning MVC record and a favorable seed in the sectional tournament.
“We’re not going to hang our heads,” Plueger said. “We know where we’re at, but we know how close we are.”
Central’s final victory margin was inflated by a gambling Tomah defense trying to extend the game with double-teams and fouls. The Red Raiders converted three breakaway dunks in the final two minutes.
It was a lot closer for most of the second half. Central led 38-30 at halftime, but Kyle Kroener scored seven points in the first 3:10 of the second half to slice the margin to 42-39.
Tomah nearly tied the game a minute later when a sweet-looking 3-point attempt from Trey Gnewikow swirled around the rim before spinning out.
The Timberwolves never again got a chance to tie or take the lead. Central pushed the lead to 51-41, and after Josh Dahlke converted a 3-point play to cut the gap to 53-47 with 6:56 left, the Red Raiders ended the game with a 16-6 run.
Tomah fell behind 20-9 early in the first half but stayed withing striking distance despite foul trouble. Every starter got a foul in the first eight minutes, and Dahlke had to sit much of the first half with two fouls. Plueger said Tomah’s defense forced “very difficult shots” early in the game but often “gave the ball right back with a turnover.”
To start the second half, Plueger said Tomah’s perimeter defense disrupted the Red Raiders’ offense.
“When they realized that Trevor (Shutter) was walling up down low, and Josh was going to be down there to block shots, we could defend a little tougher on the perimeter,” Plueger said.
Plueger was impressed by how his team survived Central’s early surge.
“I thought our kids did an outstanding job of making multiple runs back at them,” Plueger said.
Kroener led all scorers with 23 points. He was eight of 13 from the field and made three of his five 3-point attempts.
Dahlke had 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
Gnewikow didn’t score but had five of Tomah’s 12 assists.
Sophomore center Terrance Thompson led the Red Raiders with 20 points and five rebounds.
Sophomore JohnnyDavis, who has the attention of Division I college coaches, including Wisconsin’s Greg Gard, finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Central, ranked fifth in the Division 2, improved to 12-3 overall and remains one game behind Onalaska in the MVC standings.
Tomah returns to MVC action with a home date Friday against La Crosse Logan at 7:45 p.m. It’s the second half of a girls/boys varsity doubleheader at Tomah High School and a rematch of a 78-71 contest that Tomah won in overtime at Logan Dec. 15.
“We’re excited about where we’re at,” Plueger said. “After the game, we talked to the kids about staying course. Our goals are still right there for us.”
LA CROSSE CENTRAL 69 TOMAH 52
La Crosse Central—Hayden 9, D. Davis 4, Thompson 20, Parcher 8, Jordan Davis 9, Austin 3, Johnny Davis 16.
Tomah—Kroener 23, Brandt 3, Gerke 3, Dahlke 14, Brey 4, Shutter 5.
Three-point goals—Hayden 2, Austin, Kroener 3, Brandt, Gerke, Dahlke, Shutter.
MVC BOYS BASKETBALL
Results of Jan. 22
Central 69 Tomah 52
Logan 74 Aquinas 62
Holmen 63 Sparta 43