The New Berlin Eisenhower boys basketball team likes games to go a certain way.
When the Lions get an early lead, that style can really wear down an opponent.
So when Eisenhower scored the first 7 points Saturday night, it was very difficult for Whitnall to get back in the game. The Falcons held tight the entire contest, but that early cushion led the Lions to a 59-50 in a WIAA Division 2 regional final on March 3.
“What they do is they want to wear you down,” Whitnall coach Steve Kujawa said of the Lions. “They want to keep the game in the 40s and 50s, limit your possessions and take 10, 12, 14 passes to get their shot.
“We could never get over the hump.”
It's exactly what the Lions wanted. Senior Bryce Wesling opened the game with a 3-pointer, and the Lions led 7-0 less than 5 minutes into the game.
“That’s a big emphasis of ours, especially coach (Dave) Scheidegger,” Eisenhower senior Sullivan Kulju said. “The biggest parts of the game are the first 3 minutes of each half.
“Just to come out hot and play good 'D' and make them work the way we did, that’s all you can ask for.”
Making matters worse for Whitnall was that Eisenhower enjoys spreading the ball around. With an emphasis on ball movement, it’s not uncommon for all five players to touch the ball more than once on a possession. That style tends to open a player for a good look.
“That’s what we do at Eisenhower,” Kulju said. “We’re a team. We work hard for each other, everybody’s a big part of this. We’re a family, and everybody works hard.”
That hard work was needed Saturday, as the Falcons refused to go away. Every time Eisenhower would extend its lead, Whitnall battled right back. The Lions’ biggest lead was 10 points, though they never trailed. Whitnall got as close as 3 points on a couple occasions, but the Falcons could never tie the game or take a lead.
“The Whitnall kids were playing hard,” Scheidegger said. “Kevion (Taylor) was playing incredible.”
Taylor, a 6-foot-6 senior forward for Whitnall, scored 29 points – which included seven 3-point baskets. He's been moved to the spotlight role with Whitnall's junior standout Tyler Herro lost for the year with a knee injury.
“I thought we played good defense,” Scheidegger said. “That’s called being in a zone (for Taylor). We didn’t spring a leak anywhere else. We were solid with our defense.”
Kulju led the Lions with 19 points, junior Bryce Miller added 15 and senior Matthew Rolefson had 11. Seven different Eisenhower players scored.
“We like everybody to touch it, everybody to get involved, everybody to be a factor,” Scheidegger said. “It’s harder to cover five than one or two; I think most coaches believe in that.”
Taylor dazzled, hitting 3-pointers throughout the night – several coming a few steps behind the arc
“He’s been a warrior since the playoff push last year and really been tremendous for us,” Kujawa said of Taylor. “We ran through him.
“I can’t say enough about how he conducts himself and the type of person he is.”
No other Whitnall player scored more than 6 points.
“It just came down to some 50-50 balls, a couple offensive rebounds, a couple calls that could go either way,” Kujawa said. “We talked about pace, and they dictated the pace the entire game.
“They limited our possessions, they limited our runouts. All season long, we’ve been able to get out in transition and make some buckets that way. (Eisenhower) really negated that.”
The Lions will play Woodland Conference rival and top-seeded Pewaukee (21-3) in a sectional semifinal at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 3 at West Allis Central.
“It’s fun, and we’re still playing,” Kulju said. “We get another week of practice, and I get to extend my basketball career a little bit longer.”
Lions rout Bay View
Eisenhower began the playoffs with an 86-64 rout of seventh-seeded Milwaukee Bay View in a regional semifinal March 3.
The Lions built a 35-21 halftime lead and weren't threatened from there, pulling away by scoring 51 second-half points. Eisenhower attempted 56 free throws, making 32 of them to outscore Bay View by 12 points at the foul line.
Miller knocked down four 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 20 points. Rolefson added 11 points, while Kulju, senior Max Maier and junior Joe Lang each had 10 points apiece.