After Wauwatosa East's boys basketball team held Sussex Hamilton to just 10 points in the first half on Dec. 13, the Red Raiders challenged themselves to put forth the same defensive effort in the second half.
Instead, Tosa East accomplished its goal and then some, allowing just 7 points after the break in a 51-17 rout of the Chargers.
"I came in and jokingly said, 'Let's see if you can match it,'" Tosa East coach Tim Arndorfer said. "Then we exceeded it by holding them to just to 7. That was definitely unexpected. It is a testament to our guys off the bench that were committed to maintaining that idea of holding them to 10. To end up holding them under is pretty incredible."
The Red Raiders held a 24-10 advantage at halftime and then found their offensive rhythm in the second half to pull away because of continued strong defense.
Sussex Hamilton, which entered the game unbeaten on the season at 4-0, made just six shots from the field, hitting just one 3-pointer and going 4-for-6 from the foul line. Charger senior guard Jordan Smith came in averaging 17.5 points per game but scored just 3 points against Tosa East.
"It was a combination of two things," Arndorfer said. 'I'd like to think our defensive pressure led to the other. We really played phenomenal off the ball. We made it very difficult for them to get open looks. But at the same time, when they did get open looks, they didn't make them.
"A step in the right direction for us is that we limited them to one shot. We finished the defense and didn't give them second chances to get a basket. That was a big reason why we were able to limit them in both halves. It was a poor shooting performance on their part but also a pretty stellar defensive performance by our guys as well."
Having dropped its conference opener to Brookfield Central, Tosa East knew it needed a strong week in order to prevent falling more than one game in the loss column behind the Lancers and fellow Greater Metro Conference leader Menomonee Falls heading into the holiday break.
Menomonee Falls entered this week at 3-0 in league play, while Brookfield Central is 2-0. Tosa East, Sussex Hamilton and West Allis Hale are all 1-1.
"Having that conference loss and knowing we needed to keep pace, I don't want to say it was a must win, but we kind of pushed it as a must-win game for us because if you get too deep of a hole in this conference you just don't have a chance," Arndorfer said. "The kids really responded on the defensive end. We still had our struggles offensively at times. I thought we could have been up a lot more at the half, but we corrected a few things in the second half that allowed us to extend the lead."
Tosa East was balanced offensively, as 12 different players scored. KeAndre Griffin and Leonard Avery led the Red Raiders with 7 points apiece, while Blake Kratzer and Mark Cole each scored 6 points and Dane Mikkelson added 5 points.
"If we're going to be successful, we're going to continue to need that balance," Arndorfer said. "As long as we can get our guys to buy in that, it doesn't matter who is leading us in scoring; it can be a different guy every night. It just says we are sharing the basketball and playing unselfishly. Considering our size limitations and that I don't know if we truly have a go-to scorer on our team, that balance is going to be essential."
Tosa East's game against Marquette on Dec. 16 was postponed until Jan. 17 due to weather. The postponement meant the Red Raiders will have two full weeks off from game competition before playing twice in the Rick Majerus WBY Shootout at Concordia University in Mequon.
Tosa East will face Ripon at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27, and will play Whitefish Bay Dominican at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29.
"We were hungry to get after Marquette right away," Arndorfer said. "It would have been nice to see if we could have followed up and maintained our defensive presence. It would have been a totally different game in that Marquette is much bigger than Brookfield Central and Sussex, but we were looking forward to seeing how we would measure up as a team against those big kids from Marquette."