WIAA D2 STATE SEMIFINAL: (1) Nicolet 70, (4) Elkhorn 46

Knights uses length, athleticism, full-court press to floor overmatched Elks

Elkhorn players walk off a basketball court for the final time of the season Friday afternoon at the Kohl Center in Madison as fans cheer. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

 

By Chris Bennett

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

MADISON – The Elkhorn Area High School boys basketball team needed to play a near-perfect game to beat the Nicolet Knights Friday in a WIAA Division 2 state semifinal game at the Kohl Center in Madison.

A two-handed, fast break dunk by James Graham to close the first half and give the Knights the lead for good at 25-24 showed all Nicolet needed to do was play.

The Knights outscored the Elks 51-22 in the final 20 minutes and won 70-46.

Turnovers crippled the Elks during the Knights’ run. Elkhorn finished with 22 turnovers to Nicolet’s 11.

Nicolet (26-1) will play Milwaukee Washington (22-5) Saturday evening for the WIAA Division 2 title. Washington defeated La Crosse Central (24-3) 72-71 in the remaining semifinal on Friday afternoon.

The Elks finish their season with a record of 23-4. The program made its first appearance in the state tournament since 1987.

Luke Umnus is emotional as the minutes wind down Friday afternoon. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

Coach Josh Skatrud, in his postgame press conference, recalled his words to the Elks following the end of their 2017-18 season. Elkhorn lost 46-41 March 8, 2018 in a sectional semifinal to Westosha Central at Burlington High School.

“I told these guys, ‘We’re going to Madison next year,” Skatrud said. “They bought into it. They put in a ton of work in the offseason. They lifted. These guys are gym rats – they sneak into gyms on weekends – all of it building up to this.

“These guys never settled. They were hungry. They kept getting better – even when they received some tough feedback. They took it and they improved and they bought into everything. I’m really proud of them.”

The Elks led the Knights by five points, at 24-19, with 3:19 left in the first half after a Devon Davey field goal in the paint.

Down 15-7 early, Elkhorn fired off a 10-0 run, sparked by two triples from Nick Brown and several breakaway layups by Vince and Luke Umnus.

Led by several potential NCAA Division 1 recruits, the Knights closed the first half with a 6-0 run and took a halftime lead they would not relinquish.

Junior Nick Brown hit 2 3-pointers early, and the Elks led, 24-19, with 3 minutes left in the first half. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

“I think Elkhorn did a really good job of executing and preparing the game plan,” Nicolet coach Allan Hanson said. “I thought they played extremely hard. I thought they were disciplined.

“I think, for the most part, they did the things they wanted to do, and they had a good run in the state tournament.”

Hanson said the Knights got off to a slow start, which is typical of the Knights this season. In the postgame press conference Hanson said that if he knew how to alter Nicolet’s slow starts the necessary adjustments would already be in place.

What was evident early on is the Elks adhered to the disciplined style of play that allowed them to beat three teams ranked in the top 10 of the most recent WisSports.net Division 2 coaches poll.

Nicolet is ranked No. 1 in the most recent poll, and No. 7 in the nation according to USA Today.

The game’s pivotal moment occurred late in the first half when the Knights switched to a full-court

Jordan Johnson tries to sky over a Nicolet defender but was rejected. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

pressure defense. Hanson said he switched to that style of defense in order to jolt the Knights into playing stronger.

“I knew Elkhorn was going to stay true to who they were,” Hanson said. “I knew they weren’t going to get rushed. I knew they weren’t going to hurry too much.

“I really just wanted to wake up our guys and get them playing at the kind of tempo we’re used to playing.”

Nicolet rode the momentum of its 6-0 run to close the first half with more forced chaos and confusion from its full-court press in the second half.

The Knights opened the second with an 8-0 run to take a 33-24 lead, and the Elks didn’t have any answers.

A 60-percent shooting clinic from the Elks in the first half turned into a seven-minute scoreless drought, and by the time Chance Larson scored the team’s first points of the second half, five minutes in, it was already a double-digit Nicolet lead, helped in part by three consecutive steals.

Chance Larson stretches out for a shot. Many Elkhorn layup attempts were altered due to the Knights’ extreme team length. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

With 10 minutes left, Jordan Johnson broke away for a acrobatic, hanging reverse layup to cut the lead to 39-32, but it would be the closest Elkhorn would get as Nicolet followed with three free throws after getting fouled on a 3-point shot.

The Knights cruised the rest of the game, closing the game on a 31-14 clip.

Their pressure defense, which played long and strong, led Nicolet on a 27-8 run to the 8-minute mark of the second half.

Luke Umnus led the Elks with 13 points. Nicolet’s Kobe Johnson scored a game-high 20 points and his brother, Jalen, added 16.

For the game, Elkhorn shot 51 percent, while Nicolet shot 46 percent.

 

 

– Please pick up Thursday’s Elkhorn Independent for much more from this game, including stories and photos.

 

#ElkFam showed up in Madison in droves Friday afternoon to support the team. (Rick Benavides/SLN)

 

 
 

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