Two key elements to making a run in the WIAA boys basketball tournament are winning big games and putting together a streak of them. Despite just a 6-16 regular season, Wauwatosa West had proven they could do those things.
Earlier in the season, the Trojans strung together four straight wins, and just one week ago toppled conference power Pewaukee on the road, showing that they weren't going to be an easy out for any opponent.
The Trojans proved to be that tough out on Tuesday night, battling all the way to the end of a 74-66 loss to Milwaukee Morse-Marshall/Juneau in the Division 2 playoff opener. As he has done all season long, sophomore guard Andre Carroll led Tosa West with 21 points, but it was Morse-Marshall/Juneau junior Kevontrell Ellis who set the tone.
Ellis scored early and often as part of a 10-0 run to start the game. If not for a free throw made prior to the start of the game, awarded for a pre-game technical foul, Tosa West would have been shut out for first several minutes. Ellis would finish the first quarter with 10 points, with Carroll scoring 9 of his own to keep his Trojans in the game, down 20-13 after the first quarter. That initial run proved to be the difference in the game, forcing the Trojans out of rhythm on offense for the rest of night.
"I just wish we would have followed the game plan a little more and in the first half been a little bit more patient offensively," Tosa West coach Chad Stelse said. "I didn't want to take the aggressiveness away from our guys, but at the same time, that's how we were successful offensively last week."
Another quick run early in the second quarter pushed the Eagles to a 17-point lead on two different occasions before halftime. Ellis scored 9 in the second quarter, including an emphatic dunk. When Carroll picked up his third foul of the first half on a charge, the Trojans had to rely on a variety of scorers to maintain contact with the fluid Eagles. It wasn't enough to prevent Morse-Marshall/Juneau from holding a comfortable 35-24 lead at the break.
"Normally we like to start out games fast to try to have a lead and keep running our offense, but we kind of started slow so we had to fight back the rest of the game," Carroll said. "We like to run our offense and get everyone touches, whoever gets the best look shoots it."
Tosa West sophomore forward Jack Krenzien was the main scoring threat in the third period for the Trojans, scoring 9 of his 11 total points as the Trojans whittled away at the lead and moving to within single digits for a brief time. Senior guard Javis McPike scored 7 third-quarter points to push the Morse-Marshall lead once again back to 12 at 51-39 after three periods.
Despite having each run matched throughout the game, the Trojans managed to push all the way back, cutting a 16 point fourth quarter deficit down to just 5 points with less than 2 minutes to go. It was an effort not lost on Stelse, nor was the effort of his four seniors playing a final time.
"We kept preaching one possession at a time, and that's what they did tonight; I'm so proud of them for how they kept battling," Stelse said. "All four of the seniors epitomize what a true Trojan is and what I want a basketball player to end up being their senior year, every single one of them. I'm going to miss them like you wouldn't believe, and I wish we could have kept it going for those guys."
Eagles Head Coach Troy Coleman acknowledged the way Tosa West battled back and fought the entire game, adding that he the comeback at the end of the game was impressive.
"I give a lot of credit to Tosa West; they are a good team and a well-coached team," Coleman said. "We got that cushion, and it's a good thing we did, because it could have been a lot worse at the end.
"I'm glad we got the victory, let me say that. But we were up like 15 points with a minute to play and end up only winning by 8."
Morse/Marshall advanced to face third-seeded Whitefish Bay on Friday.
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