MCFARLAND — In the early stages Tuesday night, the Edgerton boys basketball team needed to maintain its collective composure and stick to the plan while facing a six-point deficit.
In the final two minutes, the Crimson Tide had to play strong with the ball against host McFarland’s defensive pressure, and then step to the free throw line and convert while attempting to protect a narrow lead.
Edgerton used a 13-0 run to wipe out the first-half hole, built a 10-point second-half lead and then made eight of 12 free throws in the last 1 minute, 29 seconds in securing a 63-56 Rock Valley Conference victory.
“Coach (Daryl Fox) emphasizes stepping to the ball and being strong with it, which is a huge part of the end of games,” said Edgerton junior guard Clayton Jenny, a first-team all-conference performer last season. “With as much experience as we have coming back, it’s really nice for end-of-game situations because a lot of us are confident at the free throw line. When I go up there, I’m expecting it to go in.”
Nick Spang, a 6-8 senior, had a game-high 15 points, including 11 in the second half, and controlled the backboards for Edgerton (9-3, 7-2 Rock Valley). Senior forward Skylar Gullickson scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half when the Crimson Tide rallied for a 27-23 halftime lead and the 6-1 Jenny added 11 points, including making four of six foul shots down the stretch.
“Our scoring is super-balanced. … We move the ball around,” Fox said. “It’s hard to defend. It’s hard for teams to game plan for us.”
Jenny’s two free throws gave Edgerton a 57-53 lead with 1:29 to play as the Crimson Tide warded off the Spartans’ late challenge.
“That’s what we talked about in the locker room (afterward) – that we answered the bell every time they came at us,” Fox said.
Junior guard Blake Kles led the Spartans (7-4, 5-3) with 13 points, including nine in the second half, while junior guard Jackson Werwinski scored all nine of his points in the second half.
“We had too many lapses throughout the rest of the game (after leading early on),” McFarland coach Jeff Meinholdt said. “We just weren’t playing like who we are, and that was the result on the scoreboard.”
Trailing 16-10, the Crimson Tide stormed back with 13 unanswered points, which included six from the 6-1 Gullickson. Senior Brian Rusch scored on the break to tie the game at 16 and sank a 3-pointer from the left wing, giving Edgerton a 19-16 lead.
“It just goes along with keeping our poise and keeping the balance of the offense, instead of letting them dictate to us,” Jenny said.
In the second half, Edgerton opened a 43-33 lead with 9:48 to play. The Crimson Tide got there aided by 6-2 junior left-hander Drew Hanson, who hit consecutive 3-pointers for his team from the right wing to make it 34-28 and later 37-30.
That 10-point deficit led to a McFarland timeout and Meinholdt imploring his team to dig deep and play with more intensity.
“I talked about their heart and their effort, and I really challenged them,” Meinholdt said. “I challenged them at the defensive end, because that is where it had to start, and we got stops.”
McFarland fought back, outscoring Edgerton 14-4. Senior guard Austin Miller’s 3-pointer tied the game at 47 with 5:14 left. Gullickson scored underneath, giving Edgerton a 53-51 lead with 3:36 remaining, and Spang added another inside basket, increasing the Crimson Tide’s lead to 55-51 with 3:02 left.
“We challenged (Spang) at halftime and he answered that call, too,” Fox said of Spang, who also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Edgerton and McFarland entered the game in third and fourth, respectively, in the Rock Valley standings, behind leader East Troy (third-ranked in Division 3) and Beloit Turner.
“It’s a big win for both the playoffs and getting seeding for our playoff run, and then for conference, too,” Jenny said. “It keeps us in the hunt.”
McFarland sophomore guard Zach Nichols, who’s also a standout soccer player, left the game with a right knee injury with 10:29 left to play and didn’t return to the game. He might miss some time, but Meinholdt believed Nichols would return this season.
Edgerton 27 36 — 63
McFarland 23 33 — 56
EDGERTON (fg ft-fta pts) — Jenny 2 6-9 11, Hanson 3 1-2 9, Coombs 1 0-0 2, Rusch 2 3-4 8, Gullickson 5 4-8 14, P. Fox 1 2-2 4, Spang 6 3-6 15. Totals 20 19-31 63.
McFARLAND — E. Nichols 3 0-1 7, Pavelec 3 0-0 6, Miller 3 0-0 8, Werwinski 3 2-2 9, Kes 6 1-1 13, Larson 3 0-1 7, Hanson 3 0-0 6. Totals 24 3-5 56.
3-point goals: E 4 (Hanson 2, Rusch, Jenny); M 5 (Miller 2, E. Nichols, Werwinski, Larson). Total fouls: E 15; M 23. Fouled out: Rusch, Kes.