ONALASKA — It took a little time for the Onalaska High School boys basketball team to get rolling in its home debut on Tuesday.
The Hilltoppers weren't as sharp as they wanted to be while hosting a nonconference game against La Crescent-Hokah, and coach Craig Kowal was reminding them of that fact after nearly every possession.
But Kowal did so with the confidence that his team would find its way, and it did on the way to a 68-40 win over the Lancers.
"It was our defense," Onalaska junior Sam Kick said when asked what allowed the team to pull away from what was a two-point game midway through the first half. "Our press allowed us to speed things up and make (the Lancers) go faster than they wanted. It got them out of their comfort zone."
Kick made two 3-pokinters and scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half to help the Hilltoppers improve to 2-0. Junior Gavin McGrath led Onalaska with 15 points and thunderous dunk in the second half.
While the press didn't create plenty of turnovers, the Hilltoppers did their best defensive work in the paint. La Crescent-Hokah's Luke Schwartzhoff and Zach Todd were held to a combined 15 points.
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"We have big athletic defenders, and when you have Gav in there, it's a difference-maker," Kowal said. "He altered or blocked a ton of their shots, and when you alter or block a couple, it makes it a little tougher for anything to go in (the basket)."
The Lancers were within 13-11 when sophomore Cameron Manske nailed a 3-pointer — his second — with about 9 minutes, 30 seconds left in the half. But that's when the Hilltoppers started to hit their stride.
Dakota Mannel hit Tyrell Stuttley, who had 11 points, perfectly for an alley-oop and followed it up with a layup on the next possession. Kick followed that up with a 3-pointer, and Stuttley hit one of his own from the right corner as Onalaska pulled away for a 39-22 halftime lead.
Kick ended the half with a pair of baskets in the final minute.
Schwartzhoff, a 6-foot-7 senior who averaged 16.3 points as a junior, was held to six points. Todd, a 6-3 senior who averaged 15.5 points last season,, tied Manske with a team-high nine.
"The biggest part of that was keeping them off of their dominant hand," McGrath said. "We thought if we could make them uncomfortable, we could keep them from scoring."
The Lancers hit a couple of early 3-pointers in the second half but never made a real run at the Hilltoppers.
McGrath nailed a 3-pointer on Onalaska's first possession, and Stuttley turned an offensive rebound into a dunk a little later to give Onalaska a 48-27. That was followed by Mannel feeding McGarth for his dunk.
Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX