The references represent different eras. Whitnall coach Steve Kujawa said junior forward Joseph Tilley reminded him of Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson, a player who rose to fame as the sixth man for the 1980s Detroit Pistons team. Tilley said the reference he'd heard was more modern — Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs.
Either way, Tilley's role is to come off the bench and make things happen, which is exactly what he did Dec. 20 at Brown Deer.
Tilley scored 22 points and made a number of key plays down the stretch as his Falcons held off the hard-charging Falcons from Brown Deer for a 78-74 victory. Tyler Herro was his usual superb self and racked up 36 points, but with Kevion Taylor (8 points) mostly quiet, Tilley picked up the scoring slack.
"I see myself as an energizer," Tilley said. "I just like to energize the team and do what I can for the team ... as a team, we trust those two (Taylor and Herro) with the ball in their hands; we trust they're going to give us the ball. They're not ball hogs, and they're just very smart. You saw it tonight with a bunch of assists (Herro with seven and Taylor, who also tallied his 1,000th career point on the night, with four)."
Tilley's baskets came at particularly crucial moments, as Whitnall (6-1) struggled to keep separation from talented Brown Deer (3-3).
With Brown Deer lingering within one possession, he scored back-to-back baskets with 7:51 to go — the second of which came after Brown Deer had given the ball away in the backcourt on a miscommunicated pass out of bounds. Tilley also scored the basket that marked the fifth foul for Brown Deer 6-7 post Johnny Saengphonphakdy, who battled foul trouble all night.
After Brown Deer's Jalen Greenlee hit a triple to pull within 72-67 with 2:05 to play, Whitnall came right back down the floor with a vengeance, and Tilley roared to the hoop for a basket and foul that marked the fifth for senior guard Damon Jackson.
"We were trying to key on (Herro and Taylor), obviously," Brown Deer coach Kelly Appleby said. "We didn't expect the other kid to go off like that. We were in foul trouble throughout the night. As far as the game, it was a good back and forth game, kind of our style. I liked it. I thought foul trouble hurt us in the first half, but defensively, we did a lot of good things, and (Jay) Gentry carried us on offense."
Gentry scored in a number of ways on his way to 28 points to keep Brown Deer afloat, even after Whitnall built a lead as comfortable as 12 points with 6:13 left. Brown Deer was playing without 6-7 senior Bryce Graf (flu) and two top reserves, Jaylon Gentry and Tejhaun Palmer, who missed the game with "team issues," according to Appleby. Greenlee added 19 of his 21 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer that accounted for the final points in the final seconds.
"I think we have four guys who can score 20," Appleby said."Johnny can, Greenlee can, Damon can and Jay can. We're still trying to figure things out. We've been a press team forever, and now we've got a couple of bigs, so we're still blending all of that together, looking inside. We're still running and gunning but trying to play a little halfcourt as well."
The victory for Whitnall snapped an eight-game losing streak against Brown Deer, dating back to Feb. 3, 2012.
"We've always had battles with them," Kujawa said. They've been on top of the mountaintop. You don't win two state titles and four conference titles without having a whale of a program.
"(Tilley) may not start, but it's not who starts, it's who finishes. He's primed for that role to come off the bench, and he made a whale of an effort with his defense, with his tenacity on the boards. He's going against a 6-8 kid (Saengphonphakdy), and he's almost 6-2."
Whitnall's next game will be an intriguing one, a battle at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29, in the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout at Concordia University of Wisconsin in Mequon against fellow returning state qualifier Kaukauna. That matchup will be billed as a contest between Wisconsin-bound Herro and West Virginia-bound Jordan McCabe of Kaukauna. Brown Deer returns to action Jan. 3 at home against Whitefish Bay.