It wasn't exactly pretty, but the Mukwonago boys basketball team held off West Allis Central in its first game of the season to win, 51-50. Mukwonago made 6 of 33 shots from the floor (18 percent), which includes 2 of 12 (17 percent) from beyond the arc, but gutted out a victory in the final seconds.
Brandon Hau's free throws with 3.5 seconds left provided the tallies that tipped the scales and rescued a shooting performance that should be uncharacteristic this season.
"Most of those looks (the threes) were uncontested looks, so it was surprising because I think our shooting will be improved this season," Mukwonago coach Jim Haasser said. "Thankfully, we attacked them all afternoon and earned 50 trips to the (free-throw) line. We made 37 of those (74 percent) and we needed every one of them. For a program that strives to make as many or more FTs than our opponents attempt, we got off to a great start."
Mukwonago turned the ball over 23 times, but Haasser doesn't expect that to be a regular occurrence.
"Give credit to WAC; they were very scrappy and aggressive," Haasser said. "We also committed more fouls than we'd like to going forward, but as we get better with our presses and our base defense, the coaches expect we'll see marked improvement in that area as well."
Juniors Connor Tess (8 for 8 from the free throw line), Bryce Konitzer (2 for 2), Collin Dorow (4 for 4) and Jesse Schmidt (1 for 2) were outstanding in their varsity debuts.
"Each of them made plays that should give them great confidence," Haasser said. "Twelve combined boards by the juniors (four for Schmidt) and four of our eight steals, so this group was very good."
Alex Gehl led Mukwonago with 16 points and converted 11 of 14 free-throw attempts. Brandon Hau scored 12, despite facing some adversity.
"Brandon lost one contact in the first half, then promptly lost his other one early in the second so he was playing nearly blind for a while," Haasser said. "He did get one replaced and calmly knocked down his last six free-throw attempts. The final four were the points to move us into a tie then take a lead on two separate occasions at the end. Those were our final points of the game for us. After the first two, I should have taken a timeout to get our defense set but again, give WAC credit for racing down and getting a quick bucket to take the lead back (after being ahead for most of the half and by as many as 6). We talked about a plan of attack after their TO, but I took one in the front court with about 16 seconds left. The play was intended to go to Hau and he got it at the top then went one on one. While raising up to shoot it at roughly the FT line, they fouled him again with about 3.5 left. Two big makes and a desperation shot later and we're 1-0."
The win is a good way to start the season and Haasser looks forward to what the 2016-17 will bring.
"Lots to get better at, but like the guys talked about prior to the game, we started to create an identity for ourselves defined by how hard we'll work, how well we'll play together and by how much we care about each other," Haasser said. "Some very encouraging first steps."