New Berlin Eisenhower boys basketball coach Dave Scheidegger chuckled and laughed when the Lions' epic triple overtime loss to Woodland Conference rival Brown Deer last year was brought up Tuesday night.
"You know, I can't tell you how many times how people have come up and told me that they watched that game and thought it was the best game they've ever seen," he said.
He could afford to be generous this night, as in an early season rematch at Brown Deer, his Lions took all the drama out of the game early with the Falcons, building a 12-point lead during the first half and then never letting the margin drop below seven in a perfectly controlled 62-49 decision.
All night long, Eisenhower's length and activity forced the smaller Falcons into long possessions and difficult shots, exactly what they didn't want to do.
"Defense has to be our calling card," Scheidegger said, "and it certainly was tonight. I tell the kids, the offense can be a bit off from game-to-game, but the defense can never take a night off. We just came out with a lot of toughness, maturity and leadership."
Eisenhower, ranked No. 9 in Division 2, improved to 2-1 in claiming the Woodland opener while four-time Woodland East champ Brown Deer fell to 1-2 overall.
The Falcons' 3-of-3 for 29 3-point shooting was a testament to the Lions' active, relentless half-court defense.
"They really did a job on us," said Falcon coach Kelly Appleby. "They were just very stingy. We were able to get some kick-out 3s, but we were never able to hit them. Everytime we had a good look at one, it seemed it didn't go down. We would pull just so close, but we didn't get close enough."
It was a 4-3 game Eisenhower early on, when the Lions went on a 13-3 run that put them up 17-6 with 10:55 left in the half. Four different players scored in the effort, capped by junior guard Bryce Miller's 3-pointer.
It would remain in that 9- to-12 point range most of the half. Brown Deer held the Lions scoreless the final 2:45 and got a pair of buckets from Jay Gentry and Damon Jackson to close the gap to 31-24 at the break.
Furthermore, the Falcons got the ball to start the second half, but the Lions' tough defense forced an offensive foul. A 3-pointer from senior guard Bryce Wesling immediately afterward bumped the Eisenhower lead back to 10. The margin never dropped below eight after that point.
"Several of these guys were part of that game last year," Scheidegger said, "and they were energized and motivated tonight. We graduated a great group last year, which had done some great things for Eisenhower basketball, but this team is learning. They're a newer team, but they have tenacity, and that kind of attitude can carry them a long way."
The Lions were led by senior forward Sullivan Kuju with 22 points, while Miller had 12 and Wesling 9. Jay Gentry was the only Falcon in double figures with 15, while Damon Jackson had 9. Hot-shooting guard Jalen Greenlee was limited to just 3 points.
"It was just a classic Eisenhower game," Appleby said. "They got out well, and we didn't, and then they kept us at arm's-length the rest of the way. We could just never get that push. They just did a nice job. We've beaten them the last couple of years in a row, and they're always very tough. When you go up against them, you better be ready to go."
Scheidegger can see his group getting much better.
"The offense is coming," he said, "and the kids are working their tails off."
Lions fall to Whitnall
Eisenhower let a second-half lead slip away in a 46-38 loss to Whitnall in a battle of state-ranked teams Dec. 9.
The Lions led, 25-17, at halftime but scored just 13 points in the second half and were outscored, 29-13, by the Falcons, which are ranked No. 6 in Division 2.
Kulju led Eisenhower with 12 points, while Miller added 9 points and Max Maier 7 points. Kevion Taylor scored 14 points for Whitnall, and Tyler Herro finished with 12 points.