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April 4, 2020

Rhinelander’s Ross Skeen puts up a jumpr shot during the first half of a Great Northern Conference boys’ basketball game at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium Friday, Feb. 14. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
Rhinelander’s Ross Skeen puts up a jumpr shot during the first half of a Great Northern Conference boys’ basketball game at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium Friday, Feb. 14. (Bob Mainhardt for the River News)
2/18/2020 7:34:00 AM
Tough enough: Hodags rally past Antigo, move to 3rd in GNC

Jeremy Mayo
Sports Editor

The Rhinelander High School boys' basketball team went toe-to-toe with Antigo in a Great Northern Conference slugfest on Friday night. Facing a standing eight count in the first half, the Hodags responded and delivered the knockout blow.

Rhinelander rallied from down 11 points at halftime and used a 14-0 run in the second half to take control as it beat the Red Robins 59-53 at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium.

Rhinelander took Antigo's best shots - figuratively and literally - in a battle for third in the GNC. Three different Hodag players took shots to the face in the second half, none of which were called fouls in an old school, rough and tumble battle that resembled the days when both teams played in the Wisconsin Valley Conference.

"That's a physical team and that's kind of how they beat us last time. They were just more physical. They out-toughed us on the glass," Rhinelander coach Derek Lemmens said, referencing a 53-47 loss at Antigo Jan. 10. "I thought, this game, we were better. Our guards did a nice job of helping out with the rebounding and we really, I thought, did a better job of controlling their main guys. They still got their points, especially in the first half, but in the second half we made other guys make plays and other guys didn't."

Rhinelander found itself down 42-35 with 9:30 remaining after a Logan Thomae steal and layup. That's when the tables turned.

Back-to-back buckets by Jacksen Smith and Travis Towne cut the lead to two and a free throw by Quinn Lamers made it a one-point game with 8:43 left. Towne connected on a go-ahead 3 with 7:30 to play and the Hodags kept chipping away. Free throws by Peyton Erikson and Martin pushed the lead to five and an Erikson transition layup off a steal made it 49-42 with 4:34 to play as Antigo went nearly 4 1/2 minutes with a basket.

"Those big runs have been good for us," Lemmens said. "It didn't start with the '0' part. They did it defensively. That allowed us also to get the ball out in transition and not let their zone get set. Us doing it on the defensive end really benefitted our offense as well."

Tanner Resch converted a couple of and-1s to keep Antigo close and an Erikson turnover gave the Robins the ball down 55-51 with 1:33 left, but Nevin Cornelius missed a contested shot in the post and the Hodags chucked the rebound ahead to Labs who was hit hard on a layup attempt by Resch that the referees deemed to be an intentional foul. Labs made one of two free throws and Erikson got a tip-in on the ensuing possession to put Rhinelander up seven with a minute to play.

Early on, Antigo appeared poised for a runaway. The Robins were 13 of 19 from the field, and 4 of 6 from 3-point range, as they led 32-21 at the half. Antigo's two leading scorers - Cornelius and Resch - combined for 21 of those points. Meanwhile the Hodags scored only one point over the final 7:02 of the half as Antigo frustrated the Rhinelander offense with its 1-3-1 zone.

That all changed in the second half.

"Guys stepped up defensively. I thought defense, second half, was much better," Lemmens said. "We didn't sit back and just kind of let them attack us. We made them react to us and I thought guys did a nice job with that. Then offensively I thought our spacing and purpose was just better. We had a lot of standing in the first half. We didn't make consecutive passes. That changed in the second half."

Lamers and Erikson each scored 13 to lead Rhinelander while Towne added 11 points off the bench. Ross Skeen chipped in nine as Rhinelander shot 41.8% (18 of 43) on the night.

Resch and Cornelius each finished with 16 for Antigo but combined to score only 11 points in the second half. Alec Hotchkiss added nine point for the Robins while Thomae had eight. Though Antigo cooled off in the second half, it still managed to shoot 50% for the game (21 of 42).

The win moved Rhinelander into third in a congested middle of the GNC pack. The Hodags (7-11, 5-6) sit a half game ahead of Antigo, Lakeland and Northland Pines. More importantly, the win moved Rhinelander to 3-1 on the season against rivals Antigo and Lakeland, and could give the Hodags the upper hand over the two entering next weekend's sectional seeding meeting.

"That's huge. Our ability to get the late win and string a few here against Lakeland and Antigo really puts me in a spot to really sell that 7-seed," Lemmens said. "We wanted to avoid that 8-9 at all cost. We didn't want to play a GNC team a third time and we don't want to be traveling to (likely No. 1 seed) Hortonville afterward. We're going to be able to go into the meeting with some ammo."

The Hodags host Merrill tonight in a non-conference contest. The Bluejays come in 12-5 and have a decent shot to be the No. 2 seed in the upcoming WIAA tournament.

"It's going to be nice to see where we stack up because, if we take care of business and things go our way, there's a good chance that's someone we could see in the playoffs," Lemmens said. "For us to be able to see them before and kind of feel it out, that's going to be nice."

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at

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