The looks on the faces of his players told Craig Kowal everything he needed to know.
The Onalaska High School boys basketball coach wasn't pleased with the way his team played in the first half of its MVC game against Aquinas on Tuesday,and he was about to let the the Hilltoppers know all about it.
"I got in there, and I could see that they knew," Kowal said. "They weren't happy about the way they'd played, either."
So the tone wasn't quite what it was going to be, and Onalaska simply focused on getting a victory on what was becoming a tough night at the Reinhart Athletic Complex.
And after the Blugolds charged back into what was a one-sided game with a run at the end of the half, the Hilltoppers quickly reclaimed control and finished off a 54-33 victory.
Onalaska (9-0, 4-0), which leads the MVC and moved into a tie for the No. 1 spot in Division 2 state rankings released by The Associated Press Tuesday afternoon, scored 14 of the first 18 points in the second half and extended its lead over the Blugolds (7-4, 2-2) to 40-23 with 11 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game.
"We didn't play like we can," said Onalaska senior Gavin McGrath, who scored 10 points. "I think our confidence was too high coming off the game on Saturday."
The Hilltoppers put on a defensive show in a 48-43 victory over Division 1 Menomonee Falls as part of the Midwest Players Classic at the La Crosse Center. Onalaska held a couple of future Division I players — Seth Trimble and Steven Clay — to a combined nine points after they entered with scoring averages of 26.4 and 20.4 ppg, respectively, that night.
That defense was there at times against Aquinas, which needed to endure long possessions for shots to open up in the first half. But other things it can generally count on — finishing at the rim and protecting the ball among them — weren't quite there consistently.
The Blugolds, however, didn't care about any of that. They were trying to make a run at the best team in the conference and had success in that quest during a couple of stretches.
Aquinas made three 3-pointers in the first half and came to life after Michael Skemp's hoop from the baseline gave the Hilltoppers a 26-10 lead. The Blugolds turned the final 1:59 of the first half into their own 9-0 run and were within 26-19 when Quinn Miskowski made two free throws after getting fouled as the half expired.
The spurt was the end of a larger 12-2 run that included 3-pointers by Andrew Skemp and Chris Wilson. Wilson and Miskowski each had seven points to lead Aquinas, which lost its second game in a row.
Senior Sam Kick scored 12 to lead Onalaska, which also received 10 points from senior Victor Desmond.
Sophomore teammate Nick Odom added nine points and enough spark to get his team through the second half. Odom was active in transition and finished three fast breaks or the Hilltoppers.
"He was great and both ends and really sparked us," Kowal said of Odom. "He plays tough, he plays smart and always gets the ball where it needs to go.
"He's been great for us. he was huge in the last game and gives us quite a boost off the bench."
Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX