The New Berlin Eisenhower boys basketball team likes games to go a certain way, and when the Lions get an early lead, that style can really wear down an opponent.
When Eisenhower scored the first 7 points on March 4, 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 victory in a WIAA Division 2 regional final.
“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, 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, and 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 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.”
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.”
Taylor boosted his season averages to 17.8 points and 7.9 rebounds.
No other player scored more than 6 points for the Falcons, who wound up at 16-7. Whitnall hit just 2 of 2 from the line for the game, compared to Eisenhower's 13 of 21.
“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 run-outs. All season long, we’ve been able to get out in transition and make some buckets that way. (Eisenhower) really negated that.”
Falcons top West
The Falcons had advanced with a 77-51 triumph over New Berlin West on March 3 in a regional semifinal game.
Taylor led the offense with 24 points, with Jonah Bzdawka adding 16 points, Dan Alexopoulos 15 and Joey Tilley 7 in his return from injury.
Whitnall held a 33-24 halftime edge and then put up 44 second-half points to pull away and notch its second victory over the Vikings in as many weeks.