The full-court pressure of the Wauwatosa East boys basketball team can create havoc for opponents if it's careless with the basketball.
Brookfield East found that out the hard way Feb. 23, as the Red Raiders forced the Spartans into 27 turnovers to lead from start to finish in a 72-59 victory in the regular-season finale for both teams.
"We got a lot of turnovers and easy baskets," Tosa East coach Tim Arndorfer said. "When we don't score, we can't put the press on. But I thought defensively, our effort was exceptional from the tip.
"The pressure is the tempo we want to play. At times, we've struggled to get to that tempo. I thought we anticipated really well, and I thought we made them work for everything we got. If we can carry that defensive energy and effort into (the playoffs), we'll see what happens."
Tosa East jumped out to a 14-0 lead, as the Spartans committed seven turnovers, many of which led to easy baskets by the Red Raiders, before Sam McGath hit a 3-pointer to put Brookfield East on the board 3 minutes, 57 seconds into the game.
Also damaging to the Brookfield East cause was leading scorer Jake Graf picking up two quick fouls, sending him to the bench less than 1 minute, 30 seconds in. The senior returned with 11:36 remaining in the first half but was called for his third foul on a charge with the Red Raiders leading, 21-5, with 9:25 until the break.
"I thought we were flat right from the word go," Brookfield East coach Joe Rux said. "We didn't get our movement going against their pressure, and because of that, they took advantage. They are an extremely athletic team that is aggressive in the full-court press. If you are going to be passive and disorganized, it is going to be a problem.
Tosa East's lead grew to as many as 17 points on two occasions before Thomas Francken hit a pair of free throws to make it 33-18 at halftime.
When the Red Raiders weren't scoring in transition or off its pressure, they struggled to finish in the lane, which left a window for Brookfield East. Tosa East led 39-22 with 14:53 to play, but a pair of 3-pointers by McGath with a triple by Graf sandwiched in between led a 9-0 run by Brookfield East that brought the Spartans to within 39-31 with 13:03 remaining.
"We let some opportunities slip away to extend the lead," Arndorfer said. "That's a credit to them defensively. They made us work in the half court. We knew they weren't going to go away. Our guys answered every one of their calls. Whenever they made a run, we would get a basket or two."
Dane Mikkelson provided the answer for Tosa East, hitting consecutive shots to push the lead back to double digits. The Red Raiders grew their lead back to 17, and Brookfield East didn't come within 10 points until the game was well decided.
It was a completely different game than when Tosa East had to rally late to force overtime in a 67-64 victory when the teams met for the first time on Jan. 20.
"The difference from the first time we played them was just being more secure with the ball in terms of not throwing jump passes and all the fundamentals that come with not turning the ball over," Rux said. "We didn't do that tonight. It is a good lesson for us for the tournament for how sound you have to be in all aspects and how locked in you have to be in executing game plans."
Elijah Flenorl scored all of his team-high 16 points in the first half, hitting 7 of his 8 attempts from the floor. Mikkelson finished with 14 points, six rebounds and five assists, Jalen Holley scored 9 points and Mark Cole added 8 points.
Patrick Cartier scored a game-high 18 points with 13 rebounds for the Spartans. McGath scored 9 points, and Michael Poker had 8 points, but Graf was limited to just 6 points in 15 minutes before fouling out.
The win left Tosa East to finish alone in second place in the Greater Metro at 10-4 and gave the Red Raiders their first 10-win season in league play since 2010-11. Seeded fifth in its half of the WIAA Division 2 Brown Deer sectional, Tosa East was scheduled to host 12th-seeded Milwaukee School of the Arts to open the playoffs Tuesday, Feb. 28. With a win, the Red Raiders would travel to fourth-seeded Wauwatosa West to face the Trojans at 7 p.m. Friday, March 3.
Brookfield East dropped its final two conference games but still finished 7-7 and in fourth place a year after going winless in league play.
The Spartans are seeded ninth in the WIAA Division 1 West Allis Central sectional and will play at eighth-seeded Racine Horlick at 7 p.m. Friday, March 3. A win over the Rebels would likely set up a third meeting with rival and top-seeded Brookfield Central in a regional final Saturday, March 4.