Emotions were running high even before the opening tip of the Greendale-Greenfield boys basketball game on Jan. 27 at Greenfield High School.
The Woodland Conference contest, which was won by the Hustlin' Hawks, 67-62, was the first meeting of brothers Ryan and Kyle Johnsen as head coaches.
"It was a lot of fun," Greenfield's Kyle Johnsen, 28, said. "I can't really describe the emotions I was having: excitement, nerves, all that sort of stuff. I've looked up to him (Ryan) so much. I've learned everything from him since I was younger. I always wanted to be him. It's the honest truth. Watching him coach when I was his assistant (at Greendale) was the best thing in the world, and he taught me so much. I've got to credit him with a lot of the stuff I know."
Ryan Johnsen, 32, added, "It was fun. It's just a weird feeling, because we know each other so well. He coached with us for so long. You try not to think about it because the game is about the kids, not necessarily about us. It was a fun atmosphere, the crowd was into it, and I think a lot of people had a good time."
Hawks gain lead
The game itself was a crowd-pleaser, with the Hawks pulling away to a big lead and then holding off a strong Panther rally, which drew them from 16 points down to just 5 before time ran out on their comeback.
Greenfield has prided itself on balance all season, and that approach showed from the start. On their first four baskets, the Hawks had assists from four different players as they played to an 8-8 tie.
The game remained close until Greenfield went on a 13-2 run late in the first half, keyed by 6 points from Rayvon Bartlett Jr.; 5 points, including a 3-point field goal, from Donnie Reasby; and a putback from Jared Davis.
That burst made it 27-17 for the Hawks, and they upped that to 34-20 at the half.
"We knew we had to match their intensity," Ryan Johnsen said. "We knew that this was a big game for them, kind of their Super Bowl. They had a pep rally, that whole thing. We didn't match that intensity for the full 36 minutes. We matched it at times, but there were times when we had lulls and dull spots, and they got the better of us."
Greenfield went ahead by 16 points on several occasions in the second half, the last at 60-44 on a driving shot from Bartlett.
All of a sudden, Greendale came to life. The Panthers went on a 10-0 run, with Mike Howell getting a three-point play on a putback and then passing inside to Clay Kujawa for a basket. Vlado Zrnic scored on a break, and it was 60-54.
"We made a good comeback," Ryan Johnsen said. "We told the kids, let's see what we're all about, see how tough we really are, and we responded really well."
Kyle Johnsen said, "One thing we need to work on is closing games. We talk about it that all the time. We're getting there."
The Hawks did indeed recover just in time. Reasby nailed a huge 3-pointer from the corner, and Sam Streeter followed with two free throws for a 65-54 advantage.
Greendale made one last charge, with Tommy Kujawa scoring back-to-back baskets to trim the margin to 65-60 with 1 minute left, but a couple of turnovers and a missed layup thwarted the Panthers. Those were just the kinds of miscues that hurt them throughout the game.
"We missed a lot of layups and had 24 turnovers," Ryan Johnsen said. "That was kind of the difference. It's a credit to them for their athleticism, too, though."
For Greenfield, Davis tallied 20 points and 10 rebounds; Reasby 17 points and 13 rebounds; and Bartlett 17 points, five rebounds and five steals.
"We had (other) guys step up who haven't played a lot, like Drew Kassel (a big 3-point shot in the second half) and Billy Pitroski," Kyle Johnsen said.
Greendale was paced by Tommy Kujawa with 20 points and Howell with 13 points.
"Mike Howell, I can't say enough good things about how hard he plays," Ryan Johnsen said. "He plays well on both ends. He just plays so hard. Mike and Zach (Harrison) play defense all the time and put their bodies on the line every single play. They ramp it up that extra notch."
The Hawks, who improved to 9-6 overall and 6-4 in the Woodland, are at New Berlin West at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, and at Shorewood at 7:15 Tuesday, Feb. 7.
Greendale (3-7, 7-8) takes on Brown Deer at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, at home when coach Dean Russell, Nicole Polka Bitter and Eric Brunner are inducted into the school Athletic Hall of Fame. The Panthers then visit Wauwatosa West at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7.