It was a typical Brookfield East-Wauwatosa East boys basketball game. Knockdown, drag ‘em, defensive battle, not pretty to watch.
In the end Tosa East came alive on the boards and used a 16-2 run in the third and fourth period to rally for a 41-36 victory at home.
The Spartans, who are playing without star guard/forward Brian Smith (ankle) and post Mike Nowak (elbow), lost point guard Ryan McBride with 5 minutes, 32 seconds left in the third quarter. The gutsy McBride returned with 2:45 left in the period after having his leg worked on.
Then to make matters worse, Jake Wiesmueller, East’s top 3-point shooter, and 6-foot-7 inch Jonathan McGinley, spent the night running in and out of the lineup in foul trouble.
“It was a game of runs,” Spartans coach Matt Malett said. “You try to minimize theirs and maximize ours and they got us when it counted. We’re hobbled, but nobody feels sorry for us. The Greater Metro Conference isn’t going to feel bad for us. They are going to try to go for the jugular when they can.
“We scrapped, but we had 14 offensive rebounds given up. That’s not going to win in this conference.”
The Tosa East big men took over in the second half, Derrick Hurt on the boards and Ben Mihelich and Kyle Vnuk in the scoring column and it was too much for the Spartans to overcome.
With the Spartans leading 26-18 with 5:24 left in the third quarter, Vnuk hit a 3-pointer, Hurt drop in 1-of-2 free throws and Vnuk and Mihelich scored before Brookfield East’s Steven Tongas scored on a beautiful reverse layup to make it 28-26 after three.
But the Red Raiders weren’t through, as Mihelich opened the final period with a basket and a free throws, Hurt but in a rebound and Ben Carpenter nailed a 3-pointer to end the 16-2 run and put Tosa East up, 34-28,
A steal and a basket and a free throws by Wiesmueller and two free throws by McBride cut the lead to 36-33 with 35 seconds left before the game turned into a free-throw contest in the final 30 seconds.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Tosa East coach Tim Arndorfer said. “It always is with Brookfield East. Even with a limited roster, Matt has them playing fundamentally well; smart basketball. We were pretty flat in the first half, especially on offense. At halftime we said our defense has to help our offense, which I think it did in the second half.”
The Red Raiders pressure defense in their big run took advantage on the short-handed Spartans.
“With a limited bench you’re going to wear down," Arndorfer said. "We wanted to come out endline to endline in the second half, hopefully wear them down, cut the lead and then see what happens in the fourth.”
Mihelich led all scorers with 15 points while Wiesmueller had 13 in limited minutes.
But the big story in the game was McBride, who played most of the game on one leg.
“He’s a senior that wants it badly,” Malett said. “He’s one of the toughest kids around. No one can question his toughness. I applaud him for his effort tonight. So much of our offense is dependent on him. When he’s hobbled and the other team sees that they try to exploit that a little bit.”
Arndorfer also praised the Spartans senior point guard.
“What impresses me most is he’s always in control,” he said. “He never forces anything. He’s a true team player. I think he’s a guy who makes everyone else on his team better. Those are hard guys to find.
“And the great performance he put on especially after going down with that ankle, says something about his heart. He’s a special player.”
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