RIVER HILLS — University School of Milwaukee was tested Tuesday by Milwaukee School of Languages, but the Wildcats stuck with their game plan and that patience paid off as the home team eventually pulled away for a 56-46 victory in a WIAA Div. 3 boys basketball regional quarterfinal game.
“We talked about how this team wasn’t the best outside shooting team, and of course , sometimes that comes back to bite you. But, we wanted to stay the course,” USM head coach Andy Fitzgerald said, noting that the visiting Hawks went 5 for 10 on 3-pointers in the opening half to play to a 27-27 draw over the first 18 minutes. “We knew over time their percentage would probably come back to reality. We definitely tightened it up. We talked more about getting out to shooters and contesting every shot, but we were confident in our zone and we knew if we just rebounded out of it, we’d be fine.”
Adrian Donaldson, who led Milwaukee School of Languages with 16 points, banked in one of those triples in the opening half and Manning Shareef added a trifecta early in the second half to put the visitors ahead by a 33-27 margin, but the Hawks went just 2-of-8 from long distance down the stretch.
The Hawks took a two-point lead on a pair off free throws by Ean Whaley-Simpson with 8 minutes, 58 seconds remaining, but the Wildcats took control after that.
“Hayden Baum stepped up and hit a couple 3s and we were able to get out in transition,” Fitzgerald said. “We talked about that; if we could get out in transition, we could get some easy buckets and maybe get the lead and extend the lead. That was something we emphasized.”
Hayden Baum tied the game at 36 with his first triple of the night and Noah Baum evened the score again a short time later with a field goal. USM then turned to Jason Adix off the bench, who put the home team up to stay. He scored an and-one assisted by Ethan Feldner, then got the rebound on his missed free throw and went on to score the go-ahead basket later on the possession.
“It was tremendous,” Fitzgerald said about the contributions the senior made after scoring four points and collecting three rebounds in the second half. “He’s a toughness guy for us. He’s one of our strongest players. We harp rebounding and toughness with him and he was able to finish and get fouled and honestly just have a presence in there, which was huge for us.”
That sequence kicked off a 16-3 run that moved USM from a 40-38 deficit to a 54-43 lead.
Best of all, it was a stretch in which several players contributed to the rally. After Adix got things started, Noah Baum added a pair of free throws, Brock Miller made a basket assisted by Hayden Baum and Hayden Baum kept things going with a 3-pointer. Miller then splashed a triple that made it 52-43.
The Wildcats then went to a ball control game that the USM football team would be proud of. The home team held the ball for more than two minutes, using more than a dozen passes before the sequence ended with Miller being fouled and making a pair of free throws.
“Credit to those guys for handling the ball and just playing with poise,” Fitzgerald said about a key period of the game that chewed up valuable time and ultimately extended the lead when Miller made a pair of bonus shots from the charity stripe. “That's something we work on in practice quite a bit. We do a lot of situations and play out different scenarios, and it helps when you have three or four guys who can really handle the ball and then also step up and make free throws.
“They did a great job spacing the floor and being able to handle it,” the coach added. “(We) moved it quick, got it to the next guy and really just spaced them out.”
Miller finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals, doing much of his damage in the second half.
“Brock is just a steady presence on our team. He’s hard to take off the floor because he does the right thing just about every time. He’s always in the right spot,” Fitzgerald said. “He makes the right play, hits timely shots.”
USM was in position to make a run to close out the game largely due to the contributions of Noah Baum and Ian Parker in the opening half. The senior duo combined for 20 points before the break.
Noah Baum led the Wildcats with 21 points and added three steals and two assists in the victory.
“Noah has been our leader all year. He did a great job getting to the basket early to get us going and then hit some big shots and free throws as well,” Fitzgerald said. “His defense in the second half was huge for us. His ability to disrupt things and get his hands on passes allowed us to get key stops and some transition points.
“His presence on the floor, his leadership and effort really helped guide us to the win.”
Parker scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds despite playing limited minutes due to foul trouble.
“Ian is huge for our offense. He is our true inside presence,” Fitzgerald said about the post player that sets hard screens and rolls well to the basket when the defense switches out on the perimeter. “It’s a huge advantage for us to have it.
“I’m so proud of that kid, too,” the coach added. “He missed 12 games this year with a shoulder injury and battled back and has really changed our season here at the end.”
With the win, USM improved to 8-16 overall. Next up, the seventh-seeded Wildcats will travel to play Milwaukee Academy of Science, the second seed, Friday at 7 p.m. in a regional semifinal. The winner of that contest will move on to a regional championship game Saturday against either Brookfield Academy or Brown Deer.