Rhinelander’s Brock Lieder drives to the basket against Green Bay East’s Isaiah Hermans during the second half of a boys’ basketball game that the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium Friday, Dec. 1. Lieder scored 13 points in the Hodags’ 59-57 victory. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
12/5/2017 7:34:00 AM Hodags rally, hold off late comeback to defeat Green Bay East 59-57
Early in the season, it is clear a Rhinelander High School boys' basketball game is never over until the final horn sounds.
It was true again Friday night as the Hodags overcame a 12-point second half deficit but then had to hold on for a wild 59-57 victory over Green Bay East at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium.
The Hodags trailed the Red Devils - who connected on 10 3-pointers in the contest - 39-27 in the early stages of the second half, but rallied to take a six-point lead with three minutes to play.
Through a combination of missed free throws, hurried shots and turnovers, the Hodags never delivered the knockout blow. Sharp-shooting junior Rafe Whalen hit three free throws with 2.4 seconds left to cut the Hodags' lead to two, then intercepted Rhinelander's long-range inbound pass but could not get a desperation half-court shot off before the buzzer sounded.
Closing out games has been a trouble spot for Rhinelander (2-1, 0-0 Great Northern) early in the season. The Hodags lost an eight-point lead down the stretch in an overtime loss at Stevens Point, blew a late five-point lead before Reese Flores scored the game-winning basket against Wisconsin Rapids and nearly let a 58-52 lead with 18.6 seconds left against Green Bay East slip away.
"You don't want to make yourself stagnant but, at the same time, guys have to make better decisions," Hodag coach Derek Lemmens said. "I thought tonight we just didn't make good decisions late."
The Hodags were only 16 of 30 from the foul line - including 4 of 9 in the final minute. Owen White, who had another double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds, made one of two free throws to put the Hodags up six with 18.6 seconds left. After allowing an uncontested layup to Isaiah Hermans with 12.6 seconds left, Brad Comer hit one of two free throws to push the lead to five.
The fact that Rhinelander even had a chance to close out the game late seemed improbable early in the second half.
Green Bay East led much of the first half thanks to a sharp-shooting effort from Whalen, who had 20 points at the break, including a long 3 at the buzzer that gave the Red Devils a 34-27 advantage.
A King Green triple and a layup by Troy Gail pushed the advantage to 12 less than 90 seconds into the second half.
"We were pretty hard (on the players) at halftime, so the message was they found a way," Lemmens said. "They clawed back. East went at them and they responded. They had their backs against the wall, down 12 at one point, and they didn't give up. They didn't drop their shoulders. They got a little momentum and I thought the bench did a great job feeding into that and they were able to climb out of that hole."
The Hodags responded with a 21-6 run that was capped off by a Comer 3 with 8:10 remaining that gave Rhinelander its first lead since early in the first half.
Rhinelander - which was only 1 of 8 from 3-point range in the first half - finally hit some shots in the second half. Back-to-back 3s by Markus Johnson and Comer sparked the run. Brad Quade hit a three with 9:30 remaining to bring Rhinelander within one and, once the Hodags took the lead, Junior Howard hit a pair of 3s to push the lead to 55-49 with 3:25 left.
"Markus really started that roll," Lemmens said. "That's the thing, trying to get him a little more aggressive offensively. He's got the skills. He's just got to believe in his skills. Him stepping up and hitting that first 3 was huge. Then Brad (Comer) and Junior followed. I was impressed. Both of those guys hit 3s after missed. I really like when a player isn't afraid to step right back up and fire again. That shows that they're confident."
The Hodags finished 41 percent from the field (18 of 44), including 7 of 19 from distance.
After a hot first half, the Hodags put the clamps on Whalen, who scored only six points over the final 18 minutes. Lemmens said the only adjustment the team made was to ratchet up the intensity on defense.
"We just hadn't made up our mind that we were going to defend him and we let him get going," he said. "The second half, they made their mind up they were going to defend him. That was the difference."
Brock Lieder finished with 13 points for Rhinelander, Howard finished with 10 points and Comer had nine as the Hodags won on the home floor for the second straight game.
Rhinelander travels to Ashland tonight as part of a boys-girls doubleheader.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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