MADISON — This season has been about one goal for the N.E.W. Lutheran boys basketball team — winning a state title.
Thursday, the Blazers took a big step in accomplishing that goal as N.E.W.defeated Sheboygan Lutheran, 77-63, in a Division 5 state semifinal game at the Kohl Center.
"This is another stepping stone to where we want to be," senior guard Dakota Zinser said. "We have Saturday's (championship) game. Time to focus on that."
The Lutherans met earlier this season with N.E.W. winning, 98-91. A fast pace was expected again and for the most part it was. However, in the first half, the Blazers (27-1) played well in only in spurts and because of that trailed, 30-29, at halftime.
The third quarter proved to be the difference. Zinser opened the quarter with a layup and ended it with a 3-pointer and in between N.E.W. took control, outscoring the Crusaders (25-3), 19-7, to open a 48-37 lead.
"The second half was supposed to be how we started the game," coach Mark Meerstein said. "I liked how we got to the rim in the second half and knocked down open shots. Early, we took shots out of rhythm."
N.E.W. is making its third title-game appearance since 2010 and the major reason is Zinser, who will play next season at UW-Whitewater. The smooth 6-3 guard scored 19 of his career-high 33 points in the second half as he took over.
"Usually we're spread out," Meerstein said about his team's scoring. "I know at the end of the game he was getting his layups down and was finishing at the basket."
"It's a great feeling," said Zinser, who scored 30 points against Sheboygan earlier in the season. "The shots were falling for me. I couldn't have done it without my team. It feels great on the big stage with a bunch of people watching."
Not only was Zinser dominant, so was the Blazers' rebounding. They outrebounded the Crusaders, 39-24, and had 11 offensive rebounds, which led to 16 second-chance points.
The players knew it was important to clean the glass.
"Beginning of game we said rebounding was going to win or lose the game and it showed," said Zinser, who had 10 rebounds. "We rebounded really well."
The Blazers, who were state runner-ups in 2010 and 2013, will play in the title game at 11 a.m. Saturday. Meerstein was asked what he does before then to prepare his team.
"I don't know you change much at this time," Meerstein said. "Last year, we felt we were pretty good then. Anything can happen. You have to play your game."
Zinser knows there's one more step to take.
"It's a bit of relief (to win)," he said. "We still have work to do."
Notes: Nathan Toenjes added 14 points and 12 rebounds for N.E.W., while Kristian Zimmerman pitched in with 13 points and four assists. ... N.E.W. had a 44-24 advantage in points in the paint. ... Sam Brock had five assists for the Blazers. ... N.E.W. shot 15 of 21 from the field in the second half (71.4%)
Complete boxscore: http://www.wiaawi.org/Portals/0/PDF/Results/Basketball_Boys/2014/d5game1.htm
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