MADISON — After getting through arguably the toughest bracket in Division 2 to reach the boys state basketball tournament West De Pere thought no matter what it ran into at the Kohl Center it would be prepared.
But Friday the Phantoms ran into an opponent they never saw coming. At least that’s the way it looked.
Wisconsin Lutheran made a statement in the opening minutes racing out of the gates with a 10-0 run and the Vikings’ speed overwhelmed West De Pere in a state semifinal, 64-44, ending what had been a benchmark season.
“I knew they’d be fast, but they were faster than we thought,” West De Pere coach Andy Werner said. “We had to get off to a better start. That really dictated how the rest of the game went.”
The Phantoms (20-5) eventually rallied and got back into the game, closing the gap to as few as three points late in the second quarter. However, West De Pere never tied the game or grabbed the lead because Lutheran always had an answer.
And that answer was defense. The Vikings forced 24 turnovers, 14 which were steals, and made a good ball-handling team in West De Pere look sloppy. The Phantoms entered the game averaging six turnovers per game.
“We had a lot of sloppy turnovers,” junior Cody Schwartz said. “In a game like this you can’t really have that.”
“Turnovers were the story,” Werner said. “When you don’t shoot the ball, it’s hard to score points.”
Lutheran pressured point guard Chandler Diekvoss all game and it limited his offense. The Richmond recruit entered the game averaging 15.8 points per game and was held to four points on 1-of-6 shooting.
Furthermore, Schwartz (18.4 ppg.) scored 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting as he had trouble shaking guard Keith Franklin, who despite being eight inches shorter never back down from Schwartz.
“It was tough, they were very aggressive, very fast,” Schwartz said. “You can’t really simulate that in practice. We knew they were going to do the run-and-jump on the press. I was face-guarded the whole game; tons of pressure we haven’t seen.”
Added Werner: “We couldn’t get open looks to Cody or Chandler. I don’t know how many turnovers we had, but we just didn’t get enough shots off.”
West De Pere managed to creep within 36-32 midway into the third quarter but then the Vikings outscored the Phantoms 12-3 to open a 48-35 lead early in the fourth. From there, West De Pere had to play “catch-up,” which is difficult to do against a team like Lutheran.
“We missed a couple shots, they pressured us. We missed a layup,” Werner said about the run. “It’s probably credit to them more than it is us not being ready.”
While Lutheran’s defense was stifling, the offense was equally effective, despite shooting 37 percent (23 of 62). The Vikings had 37 rebounds, 16 offensive, which led to 17 second-chance points. West De Pere had seven.
“They sent a lot of guys to the glass,” Werner said. “They got loose balls, we got rebounds, they stole them from us. They were more aggressive.”
The loss was certainly disappointing for the Phantoms but it doesn’t erase a great season. This was the first trip to state since 1933 and now it appears the Phantoms have arrived on the basketball court.
“We accomplished so much this season,” Schwartz said. “To get West De Pere back down to state; I always felt basketball was overshadowed by football and now to call West De Pere a basketball program is real nice.”
Notes: Schwartz on playing the last three seasons with Diekvoss: “Having Chandler as a teammate has been awesome.” … Jake Bostedt left the game in the first half with a left knee injury and didn’t return. … The 44 points tied a season low for West De Pere. … Schwartz finished with a game-high nine rebounds.
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay