LA CROSSE — When scouting Pewaukee entering Saturday’s WIAA Division 2 state tournament semifinal, Lake Mills boys basketball coach Steve Hicklin couldn’t believe the numbers.
He thought Pewaukee’s shooting percentages, particularly from 3-point range, had to be typos. They reminded him of a video game.
Second-seeded and second-ranked Pewaukee went out Saturday and validated Hicklin’s belief the Pirates were one of the best shooting teams he’s scouted. They shot 55% from 3-point range and scored the final 10 points to pull away for a 65-51 victory over third-seeded and eighth-ranked Lake Mills at the La Crosse Center.
“I would say guarding Pewaukee is like trying to sleep with a blanket that’s not quite big enough,” Hicklin said. “You always have a body part sticking out, and they find it. … It’s just tough to take away everything.”
Pewaukee (26-3) shot 65% from the field (13-for-20) in the second half and tightened its defense, outscoring Lake Mills (23-6) by a 35-20 margin while advancing to the title game against top-seeded and top-ranked Onalaska.
“They are a really, really good team,” Hicklin said. “They have a lot of guys who can knock down shots and score inside. They are a really tough team to take everything away from, and I think they got better and better at defending some of our stuff as the game went on. I thought we played well. I thought we made them earn it. I am proud of our guys and how we played today.”
Lake Mills senior Charlie Bender turned in a big first half, scoring 15 of his game-high 21 points in leading the L-Cats to a 31-30 halftime lead.
“In the first half, they were having a tough time helping on the back side,” said Bender, a UW-Platteville commit. “We have a lot of shooters out there. … I was able to penetrate the middle a little bit more.”
But the Pirates clamped down on the 6-foot-3 Bender in the second half and didn’t permit the L-Cats to score in the final 3 minutes, 25 seconds.
“I thought the first half we were right where we wanted to be,” Hicklin said. “We had a one-point lead and we had no foul trouble whatsoever. They were shooting really well, but we hadn’t turned the ball over a single time up to that point.”
Hicklin said Pewaukee packed the paint, taking away Lake Mills’ drives and back cuts in the second half. The L-Cats finished 4-for-18 from 3-point range.
“We didn’t shoot well, but they forced us into those shots and we didn’t make enough of them,” Hicklin said. “I thought we were moving well and I thought we continued to attack the basket. They just made some nice adjustments to take that away.”
Bender, the Capitol North Conference player of the year, wound up as the only Lake Mills player in double figures. Seniors Jaxson Retrum, Adam Moen and Drew Stoddard scored eight points apiece.
The 6-5 Retrum had a team-high nine rebounds. The 6-4 Moen contributed eight rebounds and five assists for Lake Mills, which relied on its starting five and used only one substitute.
Pewaukee wound up shooting 51.2% from the floor, including 55% (11-for-20) from 3-point distance, and had four players score in double figures.
Junior wing Josh Terrian led Pewaukee with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman guard Nick Janowski and junior guard Emmett Loew came off the bench to add 12 and 10 points, respectively, and junior guard Ashton Janowski scored all 10 of his points in the second half.
After Moen scored inside, cutting Lake Mills’ second-half deficit to four points, Loew completed a three-point play for a 53-46 lead with 7 minutes, 40 seconds remaining.
Lake Mills reserve forward Grant Horkan, a 6-3 senior, made a 3-pointer that brought Lake Mills within 55-51 with 3:25 remaining. But the L-Cats didn’t score again.
Nick Janowski’s mid-range jumper from the left wing with 3:05 left started Pewaukee’s final run of 10 consecutive points in securing its 14th straight victory and ending Lake Mills’ season. The L-Cats girls team won the Division 3 state title last week, and the boys were trying to make Lake Mills the first team to sweep the boys and girls titles in different divisions during the same year.
“It’s not the Kohl Center, but it’s the best basketball experience I’ve ever had,” Bender said.
“Everybody that runs this has done a really good job making it as normal as possible.”
Lake Mills limited 6-8 sophomore Milan Momcilovic — who entered as Pewaukee’s top scorer, averaging 17.3 points per game — to eight points.
The Pirates only made two 2-point field goals in the first half, but connected on seven 3-pointers with 58.3% long-range shooting. They found more success taking the ball to the basket in the second half.
“Watching film, you could tell (the L-Cats) were very well-coached and I thought they were even better live,” said Pewaukee coach David Burkemper, a former University of Wisconsin player. “Their offense in the first half. … Charlie (Bender), 8 of 15, 21 points, he just cut us up. I thought we made some good adjustments in the second half, cutting off the middle. And, again, we made shots, which we have been tending to do the last 13-14 games.”
Pewaukee 54, Onalaska 37
The Pirates (27-3) claimed their first state championship as the top-seeded and top-ranked Hilltoppers (19-1) never led, trailed by 14 points at halftime and scored only 13 points in the second half.
Pewaukee opened a 27-14 lead on a 3-pointer by Ashton Janowski at the 7:46 mark of the first half . Onalaska had a chance to cut the lead to single digits in the final 90 seconds of the half but turned it over, and Terrian hit a 3-pointer for the Pirates, who expanded the lead to as many as 21 points in the second half.
Janowski scored 19 points, senior guard A.J. Hintz had 16 and 6-8 sophomore wing Milan Momcilovic provided 12. Onalaska got 10 points and six rebounds from 6-7 senior Victor Desmond.
Onalaska 66, Appleton Xavier 57
In a semifinal, the Hilltoppers used an 8-0 run to turn a tie into a 49-41 lead with 6:34 to play and soon went on a 10-0 run to make it 59-46 with 1:35 to go against the Hawks (23-5). Desmond totaled 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists for Onalaska, and Gamoke had 13 points. Xavier got 28 points from Charlie Pfefferle.
Photos: Lake Mills vs. Pewaukee in WIAA Division 2 state boys basketball semifinal in La Crosse