MADISON — The 3-point shooting machine known as Roncalli was two wins away from its first WIAA state title on Friday, but in order to get one game closer the Jets had to do something they never at at the WIAA state tournament — win a game.
In four previous trips the Jets were “one and done,” but after compiling a 25-1 record entering Friday’s Division 3 state semifinal against Brown Deer the Jets certainly felt their time was coming.
All they had to do was find a way to knock off a bigger and more athletic Brown Deer team. Not an easy chore and Roncalli learned that the hard way.
The Jets’ prolific 3-point shooting quieted in the second half and in the end they fell 48-45.
“I thought this was a real tough game physically,” Roncalli coach Joe Rux said. “They were more athletic. We didn’t make enough plays.”
Roncalli (25-2) opened the game slow from beyond the arc but heated up. At the end of the first quarter Nick Stelzer buried a halfcourt shot seconds after Brown Deer hit a 3-pointer.
Roncalli, which averages nine made 3-pointers per game, was able to get the shot off because the Jets’ fans were counting the clock down incorrectly to force a quick shot from the Falcons. However, Jerry Luckett hit a three with six seconds left.
“I thought it was a big, big shot,” Rux said. “We were right back in a 1-point game. That was a big shot for us.”
Roncalli was going to need more heroics late in the game. In a contest that had eight lead changes, four ties and saw the biggest at five points, it was going to come down to the final minute to decide a winner.
Roncalli led 45-44 with two minutes to play and ran the clock down below one minute. Brown Deer started fouling and eventually forced a turnover that led to a basket by Lewrenzo Byers with 37 seconds to play.
Roncalli then set up a play for a shot by its top scorer, Josh Erickson. The senior got off a shot from the left wing, but missed.
“We ran (that play) a couple times,” Erickson said. “It just didn’t go down.”
Not much fell for the Jets in the second half. After going 7-for-19 from 3-point range in the first half, Brown Deer locked down on the perimeter and limited Roncalli to 2 of 7 from beyond the arc in the second half.
After a 31-point first half, Roncalli scored just 14 second-half points on 6-of-20 shooting. Among those misses were shots inside, but the Falcons possess 6-9 Devante Jackson, who was voted as the top senior post player in the state by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association, and the 6-6 Luckett.
Erickson, who missed some shots against the bigger Falcons defenders, was frustrated he didn’t convert.
“They were great looks. I don’t know if it was their length I was thinking about, going in on 6-9 and 6-6,” Erickson said. “There’s no excuse to miss layups like that. I’ve been making those all year.”
But the Jets haven’t seen height often like Brown Deer (22-5) has. At times Jackson (16 points, 10 rebounds) got easy looks but Rux said sometimes there’s not much you can do.
“There’s some things you can’t necessarily stop,” Rux said. “There were a lot of things they did where I don’t think our kids could’ve done more. We tried to scrap the best we could.”
And more often than not that has been enough for the Jets this season. Nonetheless, Brown Deer made enough plays to move onto Saturday’s title game and Roncalli still remains winless at the state tournament.
Roncalli had a roster of seven seniors, five which were starters. Erickson said it was a good group to be with.
“We’ve been together for a long time, since we were young kids,” Erickson said. “We got up on varsity as sophomores, three of us. It’s been a good ride. It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to win the game and get to the state championship game, but it was a good run.”
Notes: Stelzer led Roncalli with 14 points, while Shane Johnson added 13 and Erickson 11. … Brown Deer outscored Roncalli, 11-0, at the free-throw line. … Brown Deer was 4 of 9 from the field in the second half but was 8 for 10 from the free-throw line.
Click for complete boxscore: http://www.wiaawi.org/Portals/0/PDF/Results/Basketball_Boys/2014/d3game1.htm
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay