Trey Gnewikow’s 3-point shooting and two long second-half possessions were more than the Sparta Spartans could handle Tuesday.
Gnewikow scored a career-high 20 points, and Tomah drained two minutes off the clock with a pair of long, soul-crushing possessions as the Timberwolves posted a 57-37 victory over the Spartans in a Mississippi Valley Conference contest at Tomah High School.
There was nothing in the first half to suggest that the game would end in a rout. Except for three 3-pointers from Trey Gnewikow, the Timberwolves offense struggled in the first half that ended in a 24-24 tie.
“Trey has played well for us in the past few games, and he shot the ball exceptionally well tonight,” Plueger said. “(Sparta) might have had a 10-point lead at halftime without Trey on our team.”
The second half was a different story. Tomah’s defense blanked the Spartans for the first 6 ½ minutes of the half and led 40-26 after Mason Gerke drilled a 3-pointer.
Sparta countered with a modest 5-0 run before the Timberwolves squeezed the Spartans with consecutive possessions that made the Spartans yearn for a shot clock.
The first one lasted 56 seconds and ended with a Gnewikow field goal. Sparta responded with a quick bucket from Alex Burke with 5:58 left, but the Timberwolves came back and held the ball for the next 78 seconds until Josh Dahlke converted a layup with 4:40 left.
“It’s devastating for a team that has to play defense for 45 seconds or a minute and then give something up,” Plueger said.
Tomah’s long possessions forced the Spartans from what had been an effective zone defense to a man-to-man which created matchup problems against Tomah’s tall front line. Dahlke, Tomah’s 6-8 post player, scored eight of his 13 points after Sparta abandoned its zone.
Plueger said his team had more decisive possessions after halftime
“Even though we might have had longer possessions, we were quicker,” Plueger said. “Our passes were so much quicker, and we attacked the rim.”
It was a tight contrast to the first half, when Sparta rattled the Timberwolves with full-court pressure and used its zone defense to keep the ball out of the paint. Neither team led by more than six points during the first 18 minutes.
“In the first half, it looked like we never went against a zone before,” Plueger said.
Tomah made 13 of 22 foul shots. Sparta was five of eight from the line.
Bryce Edwards was the only Sparta player to reach double figures. He had 11.
Tomah improved its record to 11-6 and needs just one more victory to clinch a winning season.
The Timberwolves travel to Arcadia for a rare Saturday morning game starting at 10:45 a.m.
The final home game of the season is Friday, Feb. 16 against La Crosse Aquinas. Varsity tipoff is 7:15 p.m. at Tomah High School.
TOMAH 57 SPARTA 37
Sparta—Burke 5, Brown 9, Allen 4, Raymer 4, Yahnke 4, Edwards 11.
Tomah—T. Gnewikow 20, Kroener 7, Gerke 5, Dahlke 13, Huneck 1, Brey 4, Maeder 1, Shutter 6.
Three-point goals—Burke, Edwards, Gnewikow 5, Kroener, Gerke, Brey.
Sparta 24 13−37
Tomah 24 33−57
MVC BOYS BASKETBALL
Results of Feb. 5
Onalaska 61 Logan 55
Results of Feb. 6
Tomah 57 Sparta 37
Central 77 Aquinas 67
Holmen 66 Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau 53 (nc)