In the final seconds of its WIAA Division 2 state semifinal game, the Whitnall boys basketball team could not have asked for much more.
Top scorer Tyler Herro had the ball in his hands and had a decent look at a game-tying 3-point field goal, but the shot was contested and the ball bounced off the back rim, leaving the Falcons with a frustrating 62-59 loss to Waunakee on March 18 at the Kohl Center in Madison.
'It was a play we put in just recently,' Whitnall coach Steve Kujawa said. 'Tyler is going to reject the ball screen, and then we've got the opposite guys pinning down for Kevion (Taylor). They (the Warriors) doubled it, and no one else moved. I thought (Herro) at least had a clean look. We got the shot off; that's all you can ask for. We just didn't execute the play.'
Herro, who finished with 20 points and went over 1,000 points for his career in the game, said, 'They doubled me, and I tried to look for Kevion. He was covered too, so I just turned around and shot.'
Whitnall winds up 20-7
Whitnall, which had rallied from a 10-point deficit with six minutes left, finished the season at 20-7.
The Falcons trailed 50-40 but got back into the game with baskets from Danny Alexopoulos and Herro to make it 50-44; then the teams traded points for a while.
Waunakee assumed a 55-46 lead with 5 minutes, 2 seconds left on a shot from Jacob Miller, but Kevion Taylor connected on a 3-point shot to trim the deficit to 55-49.
After a Waunakee basket, Taylor struck again from outside, this time with a bonus. He nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing and was fouled on the play, converting the free throw for a 4-point play and bringing Whitnall within 57-53 with 3:56 left.
'They (the Warriors) played a good help defense, so I couldn't get to the basket,' said Taylor, who netted a trio of 3-point field goals in the second half. 'I just tried to get the shot to go in.'
Waunakee's Riley Freeman scored, but Herro hit a short shot in the lane and Daren Thomas took a pass from Herro for another basket to make it a 2-point game at 59-57.
Both Waunakee's Mitch Listau and Whitnall's Taylor hit a pair of free throws for a 61-59 Warrior lead with 16.4 seconds, and Mason Steffen hit one of two free throws for the Warriors to give them a 62-59 edge with 10.4 seconds left.
After a timeout, Herro brought the ball downcourt for the final shot.
Falcons fight back
Kujawa was pleased with his team's comeback in the final minutes.
'We really fought hard toward the end, the last three and a half minutes,' the coach said. 'We put on some good defensive pressure, we got some turnovers. We didn't make the shots we needed to down the stretch.'
Taylor, who tallied a team-high 21 points, said, 'The coach just told us to stay confident and never give up. We just tried to fight back and hope for the best.'
Shooting was a problem for Whitnall all game. The Falcons hit just 42 percent from 2-point range and 36 percent on 3-point field goals (5-for-14).
'We were 28 of 68 from the field, and that was the tale of the tape for this game, in my estimation,' Kujawa said. 'We also missed about nine layups and shots in the paint. We were getting the ball in the right spots.'
The coach added that his team had a few defensive mistakes as well.
'We had a couple of defensive lapses and were late on some rotations,' he said. 'Those kinds of things that got us here (to state) were not here on a consistent basis, unfortunately.'
For Waunakee, Listau scored 15 points and Riley Freeman 14 points.
Herro hits 1,000
Herro topped 1,000 points for his career on a shot with 4 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first half. He finished with 20 points but hit just 8 of 21 from the floor.
'We watched hours of film (on Herro),' Waunakee coach Dana MacKenzie said. 'We thought there were some things we could do to make it more difficult for him to score, and Kyle (Jensen) did those things. Herro had 20 points, but they were difficult to get; every shot was difficult.'
That included the final contested 3-pointer that ended the Falcons' season.