Early on in its annual game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, it appeared as if the New Berlin Eisenhower boys basketball team was going to fall victim to the strong outside shooters of West Allis Hale.
But the Lions took control once they eliminated Hale's open looks from the perimeter and used a strong transition game to score a season-high in points in a 69-56 victory over the Huskies on Jan. 2.
Eisenhower followed up the win over Hale with a 60-25 rout of Greendale on Jan. 6, moving to 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the Woodland West.
"We had better movement with our four guys off the ball," Eisenhower coach Dave Scheidegger said of the Hale win. "We were a little more patient and had a little more purpose. It was a fun atmosphere, great energy and great crowd. It was a perfect day for it. It was a nice experience. All of this stuff is growth for us. We're just trying to become better basketball players and hence, a better team.
"We have stuff to work on. Every team does. For the most part, I thought the focus of the kids, individually and as a team, were to work on the things that we have shown we need to improve on. It was a step in the right direction."
Hale's guard duo of Ryan Haertel and Collin Basgall combine to average 36.3 points while each shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Haertel hit a pair of early 3-pointers to help the Huskies to an 18-10 advantage with 9:49 until halftime. But Eisenhower's defense then stiffened, allowing the Lions to go on an 11-0 run to take a 21-18 lead on consecutive triples from Sullivan Kulju and Bryce Miller.
A 3-point play by Miller put Eisenhower in front 30-24, but Haertel answered with a 3-pointer on the other end. Miller and Max Maier each scored in the final minute of the first half to give the Lions a 34-27 advantage at the break.
Haertel canned a 3-pointer to start the second half to bring Hale to within 34-30, but that would be the only shot he would hit in the second half. The senior went just 1-for-5 from beyond the arc after halftime and finished with just four second-half points.
Hale shot 34.8 percent in the second half as a team and made just one of 11 attempts from distance.
"(Haertel) can play, we knew that," Scheidegger said. "You kind of hope that it is an off night for the guy. After we got accustomed to the flow, I'm hoping that we had something to do with his shooting percentage defensively. But you just hope and pray. Our defense got better, and we settled down."
Eisenhower outscored the Huskies, 25-9, in the 12 minutes following Haertel's triple to start the half minutes to go up 59-43.
An NBA court is 10 feet longer than a high school court, which benefited the Lions, and especially Kulju, in transition. The senior forward not only was successful on the break, but he also hit three of four 3-point attempts to finish with a game-high 21 points.
Matt Rolefson scored 11 points with six rebounds, Miller finished with 11 points and Bryce Wesling scored 10 points.
"The Bradley Center court really accentuated his athleticism," Scheidegger said of Kulju. "He's a gazelle. But I thought he played under control. His shots were in rhythm."
Lions rout Greendale
Eisenhower left little doubt against Greendale, leading 29-14 at halftime and then outscoring the Panthers, 31-11, in the second half.
Ten different players scored for the Lions, which were led by Miller with 12 points. Rolefson added 11 points and five rebounds, Joe Lang scored 10 points and Kulju finished with 8 points.
Eisenhower shot 51.1 percent (23-for-45) from the field and turned the ball over just seven times.
The Lions find themselves in fourth place in the Woodland West at 3-3 in league play, one-half game behind third-place Pius, 1½ games behind second-place Wauwatosa West and three games behind conference leader Pewaukee.