Phantoms hang on down the stretch to beat Seymour
By Greg Bates
SEYMOUR – With eight regular-season games remaining on its schedule, the West De Pere Phantoms boys’ basketball team learned a valuable lesson Thursday.
It can’t build a double-digit, second-half lead and expect to cruise to a victory.
The Phantoms led by as many as 18 points and held an 11-point edge over Seymour with less than five minutes remaining.
However, that lead wasn’t safe in this Bay Conference contest.
Seymour cut its deficit to two with less than 30 seconds remaining, but West De Pere escaped with a 58-53 road win after hitting three late free throws.
“After the game, we mentioned it’s a situation where we didn’t help ourselves at the end,” West De Pere Head Coach Todd Deschane said. “Some of the shot selection we had at the end and the free throws come into play. We were fortunate to come out with a win.”
This is the eighth time this season West De Pere has played a game decided by five points or fewer, and the team has improved to 7-1 in those games.
“(We had) a lot of mental errors toward the end of the game,” West De Pere senior Nathan Heikkila said. “(Our) mental focus wasn’t there like it needed to be.”
West De Pere was up 51-40 as Danny Campbell stepped to the line with 4:34 showing on the clock.
The senior uncharacteristically missed a pair of free throws.
That led to a domino effect at the line for the Phantoms.
In that final 4:34, West De Pere was 7-for-14 on free throws.
It wasn’t just the missed free throws that kept Seymour within striking distance.
West De Pere had a few turnovers and some fundamental errors.
“When we got the lead, we relaxed instead of staying up on them,” Deschane said. “Because of that relaxation, that deflated our energy. We weren’t boxing out on rebounds. We had them in positions where they took shots we wanted them to take, but then guys would slip in because we weren’t boxing out. We can take lots from this game and learn from it, and we’re going to do that.”
West De Pere had a balanced scoring attack with five players having eight or more points.
Ethan Heck put in a team-high 16 points, followed by Heikkila and Campbell with 10 each.
With three of Seymour’s regular rotation players not dressed on the night — including Tru Cornell and Dawson Steltz due to sickness — Head Coach Bobby Kuchta had to rely on a short bench.
Kuchta said he liked the effort from his shorthanded team.
“We were down 18 and could have thrown in the towel, but our guys have battled all season long,” he said. “He held them to 58 (points), they average 74 in the conference. We had some chances. We were limited offensively and didn’t shoot it great.”
The Thunder’s leading scorer, Gunar Weyer, also stepped up his game.
The senior finished with a career-high 25 points.
Sam Daugherty tied his career-high with 13 points.
Used to getting out on the fastbreak, West De Pere (12-4, 7-0 Bay) was taken out of its element with Seymour (7-8 3-4 Bay) slowing the pace down in the half court.
Weyer hit a bucket to cut West De Pere’s lead to 11-10 with 6:53 remaining.
Heikkila nailed a 3-pointer, and Campbell and Heikkila had back-to-back layups on the fastbreak.
“We created that with our defense,” Deschane said. “When we relax, that’s when we relax defensively. Then offensively, we don’t push then either because you’re starting from a full-court setting and you’ve got to dribble the ball up against an established defense. They did a good job of getting those putbacks and getting us in a position we didn’t always want to be in.”
Seymour cut its deficit to three points, but West De Pere ended the half on an 8-2 spurt.
West De Pere’s lead ballooned to 42-24 early in the second half after Tyas Olson hit a 3-pointer.
Things started to get interesting late with the Phantoms holding a 54-45 lead with 2:43 remaining.
The Thunder scored the next six points on a putback by Mason Pautz and four free throws.
Daniel Inman converted a layup with 28 seconds left to make it 55-53.
Heck stepped to the line and dropped both free throws to seal the win.
West De Pere’s victory helped it close out the first half of the Bay Conference schedule by going undefeated.
The Phantoms start the next leg of the conference at Menasha Tuesday, Jan. 25.
“We’ve been talking about being undefeated in the conference – the target is going to be on our back even more full time,” Deschane said. “Every night, we’re going to get someone’s best challenge. We’ve got to be aware of that and play through the entire time.”