Wauwatosa East boys basketball team gets back into action Friday at co-leader Brookfield Central after coming off two losses in the Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Shootout at Concordia College in Mequon last week.
The Red Raiders play an important part of the schedule to begin the New Year and if they plan on having a winning season in the Greater Metro Conference, they need to play better than they did last week, according to coach Tim Arndorfer.
The Red Raiders are tied with Marquette for third, each with 3-1 records, behind co-leaders Brookfield Central and preseason favorite Sussex Hamilton, each 4-0.
After they play the Lancers on Friday, they host archrival Marquette on Jan. 11 and then travel to crosstown rival Wauwatosa West the next day for their annual crosstown battle.
Then they host defending champion West Allis Central on Jan. 18 and finish up this rough stretch by traveling to always pesky Brookfield East on Jan. 25.
The Red Raiders opened the WBY Shootout with a 56-44 loss to Onalaska on Dec. 26. The defending Division 2 state champions are led by Iowa State recruit Matt Thomas, one of the state's top players.
The talented 6-foot-4 inch senior guard averages 27.8 points and 15 rebounds per game and he didn't disappoint the crowd, scoring 25 points to lead the Hilltoppers.
No Red Raider play reached double figures, as senior guards Nate Moore and Ben Carpenter each had nine points and Devin Ross added eight.
Onalaska and Tosa East battled in the first half, with the Hilltoppers winning the first quarter (15-11) and the Red Raiders winning a low-scoring second (8-7) to trail 22-19 at intermission.
'Early in the game I thought we were a little bit rattled,' Arndorfer said when asked about Onalaska's press. 'Why I don't know. It wasn't significant pressure.
'Maybe we weren't ready to go,' he continued. 'I don't want to make excuses, but I don't think we came out ready. Two days of not shooting. We couldn't hit open shots (and) that frustrated you.'
No East player had more than three points in a quarter, as Anthony Carroll managed five points and Derrick Hurt four at halftime. Thomas led Onalaska with nine.
But then came perhaps the ugliest quarter of the year.
The Hilltoppers outscored Tosa East, 18-3, to take a 40-22 lead with 2 minutes, 27 seconds left in the third period.
Thomas had eight points and senior guard Clint Rihn added seven in the run, while Carpenter's 3-pointer at the 5:10 mark offered the Red Raiders' only points until he nailed another 3-pointer with 1:10 left in the period.
Ross scored the final five points in the period for East on an old-fashioned 3-point play and a drive to the basket.
'Against some top-quality opponents we have played this year, we've had one crappy quarter,' Arndorfer said. 'It was no different tonight. So we can hang around. But at some point - I'm trying to figure out what it is - until we play four quarters, we're going to be on the losing end of the stick against quality opponents.'
Arndorfer then talked about the Red Raiders not being able to match the Hilltoppers' firepower.
'We've found ways to win some in other games, but when you have a kid as good as Thomas, he is either going to hit the shot or go to the free-throw line. They got baskets; we went too many possessions without them. It's not rocket science.'
The 21-11 third period gave the Hilltoppers a 43-30 advantage going into the fourth quarter, so when the Red Raiders went on and outscored Onalaska 14-13, it was too little, too late.
Once again the Red Raiders struggled with their shooting, a problem that pops up when they play a zone defense.
'I'm a little disappointed we didn't execute against the zone a little bit better,' Arndorfer said. 'We settled for threes. If you are going to settle for them, you've got to hit them and we just didn't.'
While the Red Raiders couldn't handle Thomas in the first game, the next day they couldn't handle Bay Port's 6-4 senior guard Steven Minzlaff, who poured in 31 points to lead all scorers in a 69-65 overtime loss.
Minzlaff had more help than Thomas as Ryan Grabig (13 points), Ryan Fuglestad (10) and Zach Lorbeck (10) all got into double figures.
The Red Raiders also improved in the scoring column, led by the hardworking Moore's 18 points.
Carpenter, Carroll and Ben Mihelich all added 13 points.
This time the Red Raiders started out fast, taking a 19-12 lead after one. Although they played better than the night before, the Pirates outscored them 32-21 in the second and third quarters, to roll into the fourth quarter with a 44-40 lead.
This time the Red Raiders battled back, outscoring the Pirates 17-13 to send the game into overtime, where Bay Port prevailed, 12-8, for the win.
'I think it's the same story,' Arndorfer said. 'We can compete with some of the top teams, but until we figure out how to beat them, that's just going to be what we are - a team that can hang around. That's not what Tosa East is about.'