MADISON - Everybody knows the Little Chute boys basketball team has two seniors going to Green Bay next season, but another reason the Mustangs have been so good all year was their defense.
Little Chute held all 26 opponents to under 60 points entering Friday morning's Division 3 boys basketball state semifinal against Aquinas at the Kohl Center, but its defense was in for its biggest test when it met Wisconsin recruit Bronson Koenig.
Early on, Koenig let the Mustangs know it wasn't going to be easy. Koenig displayed his great ball handling and showed his ability to get his teammates easy baskets and it was too much for Little Chute to overcome as the Mustangs' season came to an end, one game short of a state title game, 61-51.
"Bronson Koenig is the real deal; there's a reason (Wisconsin coach) Bo (Ryan) has him coming to the Kohl Center," Little Chute coach Mickey Martin said. "I was really impressed with his ability to pass the ball and get things for his teammates."
Martin started Mitch Ciske on Koenig, but quickly put in backup point guard D.J. DeValk, who's a quicker defender. DeValk stayed on Koenig for most of the game from that point and managed to keep Koenig's offense (14 points) contained.
"I thought for the most part D.J. did a nice job," Martin said. "I thought D.J. was really good today."
Koenig had just four assists, but his playmaking ability led to his teammates getting quality opportunities when Little Chute's defense had to help. Aquinas shot 22 for 37 from the field for 59.5 percent, including a sizzling 12-for-17 (70.6 percent) in the second half.
"They finished around the basket," Martin said. "The second half they were really good. In the end, I think they generated better shots than we did. The team that usually generates the best shots is going to win, and in the end that was the deal today."
And the second half is where the game turned. After Aquinas led 24-21 at halftime on a shot at the second-quarter buzzer that replays showed was late, the Blugolds kept it going in the third quarter.
They scored the first nine points of the third quarter and led 33-21.
Little Chute, though, didn't back down. It managed to get Koenig in foul trouble and made a run, cutting the deficit to 54-49 with 2:08 left in the game. Ciske powered the run with all of his points, nine, coming on three 3-pointers.
"We settled down and made some runs at them," Martin said. "Every time we made a run, they came back at us. I think that was the difference in the game. You don't want to be behind Bronson and Aquinas."
Martin was right, because from there Aquinas played keep-away, made 5 of 6 free throws in the final 61 seconds and forced Little Chute to score quickly.
That didn't happen and when the final buzzer sounded Little Chute's run to a state title fell short. While a 25-2 record is impressive, a state appearance isn't what Little Chute was gunning for, a title was.
Nonetheless, it was a great run for a senior-dominated team, which is responsible for the program's two state appearances, the previous coming in 2011.
"I wouldn't trade it for anything," Turner Botz said. "I've had a ton of fun, played with a bunch of great guys. They're like my family."
Martin knows he's losing a lot of good kids, nine seniors and five starters, but was proud of what this group did.
"Anybody who watched the game today saw thousands of people here from the Northeast," Martin said. "It was amazing to see all the light blue in our side of the gym. I think that speaks volumes for Turner and his teammates for the impact they've had on the community. It's been a great ride."
- 3-pointers: At one point in the game, Botz and Kenneth Lowe scored 30 of Little Chute's 35 points. … Aquinas outscored Little Chute, 28-18, in the paint. … Little Chute never led in the game but there were two ties.
- Game ball: Botz, who scored a game-high 19 points, 15 in the second half.
- Numbers game: 61 Points allowed by Little Chute was the most all season.
For complete box, click link: http://www.wiaawi.org/Portals/0/PDF/Results/Basketball_Boys/2013/d3game1.html
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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