Rhinelander’s Reeve Craig (3) tries to get the ball back from Medford’s Osy Ekwueme following a steal late in overtime of a boys’ basketball game Saturday, Jan. 7 at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium. Ekwueme came up with two steals late in overtime as Medford held off Rhinelander 64-62. (Photos by Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander’s Owen White works in the post against Medford’s Cameron Wenzel (5) during the second half of a boys’ basketball game Saturday, Jan. 7 at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium. White, playing in his first game of the season following a knee injury, scored 19 points in the Hodags’ 64-62 loss.
1/10/2017 7:30:00 AM Medford knocks off Hodags in OT 13 3s, 56 percent shooting not enough in 64-62 loss
Owen White was back Saturday for the Rhinelander High School boys' basketball team, and so was the shooting touch that had alluded the Hodags through the first five games of the season. But all of that still wasn't enough for the Hodags to cool off red-hot Medford.
Cameron Wenzel led all scorers with 21 points and the Raiders notched their seventh straight win, edging the Hodags in overtime 64-62 at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium.
Offensively, Rhinelander (3-3, 1-1 Great Northern) did very little wrong. White scored 19 points, including a game-tying 3 with 1:52 left in regulation. The team knocked down a season-high 13 3-pointers and shot 55.8 percent from the field, beating its previous best efficency by nearly 18 points.
Yet Rhinelander let down on the defensive end. Wenzel was one of four starters in double figures for the Raiders (7-2, 3-1 Great Northern), who took the lead moments into the second half and didn't trail the rest of the way.
"Us giving up 64 points on our court just makes me sick to my stomach," RHS boys' basketball coach Derek Lemmens said. "We just don't have the pride on D that we need. We lacked communication. I know we're tired. We're out of shape right now. We were not in the shape we needed to be and there were circumstances out of our control, but when it comes down to it, you know, guys just got to find a way and I think tonight we just let adversity win the game."
Rhinelander had not played since a 59-38 win Dec. 9 at Northland Pines and went 17 days without practice due to a pertussis outbreak that canceled all extra-curricular activities over the holiday break. The long layoff seemed to have the biggest effect on the defensive end, as the Hodags allowed the Raiders to shoot 53 percent from the floor (25 of 47), and 8 of 18 from beyond the 3-point arc.
"We weren't communicating well," Lemmens said. "We were out of position. I think, as a coach, I was trying to switch too much and it was causing confusion. We're not ready for that yet and I think I tried to move too quickly in that first half in thinking that we're a mid-season team when we're not. We're playing our first game in a month."
Medford took the lead for good with 3:03 left in overtime as Jake Sullivan scored underneath. Wenzel added a 1-for-2 trip to the line with 1:58 left to give the Raiders a three-point advantage. White cut the lead to one with 1:32 left after a spin move in the lane yielded an easy bucket.
Leading by two in the final seconds, the Raiders thought they had sealed it on an Osy Ekwueme steal, but he dribbled the ball out of bounds, giving the Hodags life with 4.3 seconds left. Rhinelander got the ball to the corner for Brad Comer, whose attempt at a game-winning 3 hit off the side of the backboard as time expired.
Despite leading 28-26 at the half, the Hodags did well to force overtime. Wenzel hit back-to-back 3s to start the second half - the second a four-point play following a foul - and the Raiders eventually pushed the lead to 10 up 50-40 with 10:10 left.
Then Matt Reinthaler heated up for Rhinelander, hitting three straight 3s without a miss to trim the gap to 52-49 with 6:30 left. Ekwueme, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Raiders, traded buckets with White for a stretch to put Medford up 58-54 with 3:06 to play, but White still had two big shots left in him. The first was a make from the right wing that brought the Hodags within one at 58-57. After Wenzel hit both ends of a 1-and-1, White hit again, this time from the left wing, to tie the game at 60.
Medford held for the last shot of regulation. Ekwueme had a 10-footer blocked out of bounds by Reinthaler with 1.4 seconds left in regulation and then missed a fadeaway jumper in the lane as time expired.
White was quiet in the first half for Rhinelander, scoring only four points in his first game action of the year after sustaining a knee injury prior to a Sept. 30 football game against, ironically, Medford.
"We were trying to monitor him and he got in a little foul trouble, so we thought just let him rest and use him in the second half," Lemmens said.
Comer finished with 12 points and Reinthaler added nine for the Hodags. Garrett Strebig had 13 points and Sullivan added 11 as Medford's starting five accounted for all but two of the team's points.
"We played out of our tail offensively and we still couldn't find a way to win," Lemmens said. "I like to always bring that point up. You can score 100 points and you can still lose a basketball game. If you don't let a team score, you can't lose a game. That's why I think defense always trumps offense and that's why Rhinelander basketball has always been about defense. Tonight, one of the last things that was on our mind was defense."
The loss leaves Lakeland as the only unbeaten in the GNC. Lemmens said the his team still controls its own destiny for a fifth straight conference title despite the setback, but will have its hands full on Tuesday at Mosinee against a squad that's lost back-to-back conference games by a total of five points.
"We're walking into a team that's going to play desperate," he said. "It's going to be a scary situation. We're giving up a lot of size and they know that. Right now, they have to get a conference W. They've lost two straight and they're going to give us everything they have."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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