The Wauwatosa East boys basketball team mustered just 45.5 points per game in the first two games of the WIAA Division 2 State basketball tournament. Good thing the Red Raiders defense has held the two opponents to only 42 points per game.
By defeating Milwaukee Northwest on Friday, 47-42, the Red Raiders advanced to the regional final against Milwaukee Morse Marshall/Juneau on Saturday It was the second time in a week that Wauwatosa East held the opposition to 42 points after sneaking out a victory Tuesday over cross town rival Wauwatosa West.
“We’ve been struggling offensively to even hit 50, but our defense has been keeping us in the game,” Red Raiders head coach Tim Arndorfer said. “I thought we rebounded extremely well tonight, and what an effort from our guys coming in as the underdog tonight.
“I’m just really proud of them.”
Milwaukee Madison high school played host to a game that entered the fourth quarter tied at 32. Moments later, with his team trailing by two, junior Ben Carpenter drilled a three-pointer to give the Red Raiders the lead for good. Carpenter then made all four of his free-throw attempts in the last 20 seconds of play to finish with seven points and seal the victory for Wauwatosa West.
“I wasn’t expecting to come into the last quarter but I wanted it and I was ready for it when the pressure came,” Carpenter said. “I really wanted to be out there, so when coach put me in I nailed them down.”
Senior Vince Cupertino took an inadvertent hit to the nose late in the third quarter, causing a lengthy timeout to clean up the dripping blood. That injury found Cupertino with a possible broken nose and Carpenter with extended fourth-quarter minutes at the guard position.
“We saw that Vince might have had a broken nose so we all had to step up, I tried my best and it paid off,” Carpenter said.
The playoff win marks the first time Wauwatosa East has won two postseason games since the 2009 run that ended with a loss to Milwaukee Washington. History doesn’t concern Arndorfer though; he was only looking forward after the game.
“We finally have our whole group together,” Arndorfer said. “Maybe we are starting to gel at the right time. We know we are happy to be playing tomorrow, that’s all I know.”
Junior Kyle Vnuk led the victors with 12 points, four coming in the fourth quarter. A pair of juniors led the way for Milwaukee Northwest as Brandon Williams led all scorers with 13 points and Alex Najieb matching Vnuk at 12.
Wauwatosa East led the entire first half making just enough three-point shots to make Northwest pay for its zone defense. Vnuk hit a three to put the Red Raiders up 6-0 early before the Eagles would respond with a basket.
Four different players scored for the Eagles in the first quarter to reel in the early deficit. Senior Charles Wardell hit a three of his own to pull Northwest to within 10-9. Wardell averaged 21.5 points per game in the regular season but was held to just that single bucket in the first quarter and five points in the first half.
“Some of his shot selection was bad,” Eagles head coach Carlos Hubbard said. “I think he was trying to force the issue instead of letting the game come to him.”
To start the second quarter, the Red Raiders managed to once again stretch the lead out against the zone. Back to back baskets from junior Kyle Vnuk and senior Diamonte McKinley pushed the lead to seven points and forced a Milwaukee Northwest timeout with 3:19 left in the half. The Eagles would answer coming out of the timeout and close the gap to two on a three-point make from junior Alex Najieb.
Halftime adjustments proved fruitful for Milwaukee Northwest with a switch to man to man defense creating turnovers and leading to fast breaks. Wardell delivered a huge three ball from deep, and with just more than three minutes left in the third quarter, the Eagles took the lead on a Savon McNeal free throw. Those would be the final points of the night for Wardell and McNeal, combining for just nine points, half of what the tandem averaged coming in to the game.
For the Northwest seniors, the year ended with a successful 15-8 record but a disappointing final game for both players and coaches.
“It’s tough for those guys,” Hubbard said. “Seems like they’ve been around forever. Wardell, McClelland, McNeal, I’ve had those guys since middle school and we’ve been through some battles.”
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