Throughout the early portion of the season, Stu Vent and A.J. Makinen have been trading text messages about how this is their time to step up to lead the Muskego boys basketball team. While the talented duo are still just sophomores, they appear up to the challenge.
Vent scored 22 points and Makinen added 19 to lift Muskego to a 58-54 road victory at New Berlin Eisenhower on Nov. 29.
"We've been sharing words with each other about how we have to step up to win games this year," Vent said. "We've been playing together for a long time ... we've been playing AAU together for a really long time, so we've always click and have had that confidence together."
Having graduated its top three scorers and two other contributors from a year ago, Muskego will be relying on new faces this season. Vent and Makinen led the way, but the Warriors received contributions from others in their win over Eisenhower.
Senior forward Luke Horozewski scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds. Senior guard Ryan Wikel added five points; seniors Ben Schaefer and Rob Zolecki played strong defense; and sophomore guard Colton Dowd hit a big 3-pointer in the second half.
"We're going to have to have multiple guys stepping up," Muskego coach Andy Capes said. "I think it is going to be a whole new season with a bunch of new contributors. We have a bunch of kids that are very talented, but they haven't had a lot of varsity experience. We have the ability to have all 12 guys on our team play."
Vent got the Warriors rolling, scoring 15 of his 22 in the first half.
Muskego used a 7-0 run to go up 28-23 with 1:26 to play before halftime, but Matt Rolefson scored to cut the Warriors' lead to 28-25 at the break.
After Eisenhower pulled to within one point with 14:33 left, Muskego rattled off seven straight points to take a 40-32 advantage on a 3-pointer by Makinen. The Lions quickly fought back, tying the game at 42-42 with a 10-2 run.
Eisenhower took a 51-49 lead on a pair of made free throws by Bryce Miller with 4:52 to play, but Makinen started a 7-0 Muskego run with an off-balanced 3-pointer.
Miller connected from beyond the arc to cut Muskego's lead to 56-54 with 1:11 to play. After Vent missed the front end of the bonus with 41 seconds left, Eisenhower missed a rushed go-ahead 3-point attempt with 26 seconds on the clock.
But Muskego threw away the inbounds pass, giving Eisenhower another shot. Miller got a good look with seven seconds left on a drive to the basket, but the ball rolled off to Ben Schaefer, who was then fouled. Schaefer then hit both free throws to put the game away.
Makinen scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half, including connecting of 3-of-5 3-point attempts.
"A.J. really took over," Capes said. "He can penetrate and finish at will. He impressed me with his ability to get to the basket, make good choices and take care of the ball. For a sophomore point guard, that's a lot to ask. He really did a great job."
Senior forward Sullivan Kulju led Eisenhower with 19 points and six rebounds. Miller had 12 points, Rolefson added 12 points and four blocks and senior Max Maier dished out four assists.
Eisenhower coach Dave Scheidegger feels the Lions offense will come as the season progresses, but he was not pleased with how his team defended. Vent and Makinen were a combined 16-for-27 from the field and 6-for-11 from beyond the arc, as Muskego shot 50 percent for the game.
"We take a lot of pride in our defense," Scheidegger said. "We just let (Vent) have a great game. Once we see a player is on like that, we have to step it up a little bit. Kudos to him, I don't know if he missed a shot. (Makinen) broke us down and got inside of us.
"Defensively, we feel we are better than what we showed tonight. The defense is going to have to keep us steady until the offensive puzzle becomes clearer."
Muskego downs Oconomowoc
Muskego moved to 2-0 on the season with a 63-55 nonconference victory at Oconomowoc on Dec. 2.
Vent scored 18 points to lead the Warriors, which led 30-23 at halftime. Horozewski added 14 points, Makinen finished with 11 points and Zolecki scored 7 points. Zach Clayton led Oconomowoc with 25 points.
Muskego was just 9-for-20 from the free-throw line, but the Warriors hit six shots from beyond the arc.