Coming off a week in which it faced two-state ranked opponents, New Berlin Eisenhower's boys basketball team was handed a different kind of challenge.
Shots were not falling on the road in a rivalry game, and the Lions saw their double-digit, second-half lead quickly evaporate. But Eisenhower showed the poise of a team ready to make noise in the postseason, closing the game on a 21-6 run to claim its ninth straight victory with a 52-37 win over New Berlin West on Feb. 17.
The Lions have won 10 straight games over their crosstown rivals dating back to 2012.
"It was typical Ike-West," Eisenhower coach Dave Scheidegger said. "Everybody gets all excited. We knew they were going to pack it in and make us earn it from the outside. We did just enough to stay ahead and pull this out. The defense was tremendous keeping us in it. Defense wins games."
After scoring 13 points over the first 11 minutes, 39 seconds of the game, the Lions went on a 10-1 run over the final 6:05 of the first half to take a 23-14 lead.
Bryce Miller, who banked in a 3-pointer just before the break, scored five points early in the second half to put Eisenhower up 28-14 with 15:11 to play. West missed 11 consecutive shots during Eisenhower's 15-1 run, going 9:57 without a field goal.
But the Vikings battled back, as a 3-pointer by Zach White capped an 11-0 run to bring West to within 28-25 with 9:30 to play. Miller connected on a 3-pointer on the other end, but Desmond Polk and Tyler Torosian hit triples on consecutive possessions to tie the game at 31-31.
The push by West didn't phase the Lions.
Eisenhower answered with a 10-2 run to go up 41-33 on a pair of made free throws by Max Maier with 2:56 remaining. West scored just 6 points over the final 7:29 of the game, and the Lions grew their lead to as wide as 17 points.
"Our kids have shown great resiliency," Scheidegger said. "Early in the season, maybe not, but starting right before Christmas our kid have stayed poised and composed. We get the ball to where it needs to be and who it needs to be with. Whether it is at the free-throw line, inside or outside, the kids are doing a nice job getting the ball where it needs to be when it needs to be there."
West played a zone defense more than it usually does in order to slow Lions forward Sullivan Kulju, who scored 20 points in the first meeting between the two teams. The Vikings and foul trouble limited Kulju to just 7 points, but Miller stepped up to score a game-high 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including hitting 5 of 8 3-point attempts.
Eisenhower shot just 17-for-50 (34.0 percent) as a team, as the rest of the Lions were just 1-for-12 from beyond the arc. Matt Rolefson scored 8 points with eight rebounds; Kulju had 7 points and 12 rebounds; and Bryce Wesling added 6 points.
"In the second half, we started to find a rhythm," Miller said. "We started moving the ball, and we got better looks in the second half. It resulted in a couple of more buckets."
West scored 17 of its 37 points over a five-minute stretch in the second half. The Vikings mustered just 20 points the other 33 minutes of the game, as they went 13-for-41 (31.7 percent) from the field and 4-of-18 (22.2 percent) from beyond the arc.
No Vikings player reached double figures, as Joe Robey, Fred Cottrell and White all finished with 8 points.
"We struggled to score," West coach Brandon Mattox said. "That was the biggest thing. We were able to slow them down. We held them to 52. We are not going to win games scoring 37 points. In the first half, we had 10 turnovers and 17 shots. That's not going to be effective. We got some better looks in the second half, but they are good. I think they are going to do well in the tournament."
With the loss, West fell to 8-12 and 3-12 in league play. The Lions, ranked No. 8 in the Division 2 coaches poll, improved to 16-5 overall. With Pius XI's loss to Greendale, Eisenhower moved past the Popes and is alone in second place in the Woodland West at 11-4.
"We feel good," Miller said. "But we also know we need to get to practice and keep focusing on getting better day in and day out."