Stevens Point's pick-pocket defense, coupled with an answer to a second-half Waunakee run, lifted the Panthers to their 15th victory in 16 outings Tuesday evening.
Stevens Point, ranked fourth among WIAA Division 1 schools in this week's WSN Coaches poll, notched an impressive 57-43 road victory as reserve Jerrin Suehs drilled six three-point shots and led the Panthers in scoring with 18 points.
Stevens Point's defense made it difficult for Waunakee to find good looks at the basket and led to numerous turnovers while helping to also fuel some fast-break baskets. The Panthers finished with 14 steals.
"I thought our defense was pretty good, especially after the last few weeks when we slipped a little bit," Stevens Point coach Jon Krull said. "We re-focused and worked on it a lot. Our perimeter guys, Carter (Combs), Baraka (Makalin) and Amon (Konopacki), all have quick hands and good speed."
Leading 26-21 at intermission, Stevens Point saw its lead evaporate early in the second half as Waunakee took a 30-29 advantage with 13:18 left on a cut to the basket and layin by junior Kaden MacKenzie.
But the Wisconsin Valley Conference visitors responded with an 8-0 run, sparked by a nice three-point play from junior Grant Chandonais, and were never threatened the rest of the way.
Waunakee, which now has lost three games in a row, slipped 10-5 on the campaign under first-year coach Tyler Selk.
Jerrin Suehs, 6-2, Jr., G, Stevens Point
Points were at a premium Tuesday and possessions were often extended as both Stevens Point and Waunakee searched for openings against tough man-to-man defenses. So when Suehs came off the bench and buried four three-point shots in the first half and two more in the second 18 minutes, it provided Stevens Point with the offensive fuel it needed to get separation from Waunakee. Suehs' six triples was one shy of his career-best as he connected on seven shots beyond the arc in a victory over D.C. Everest earlier this year. He has made 52 of 106 tries from deep for an impressive 49 percent. "Jerrin is the guy who extends defenses because of his shooting skill," Krull said. "It's nice to have that kind of production off the bench. We work on spotting and giving yourself a line of sight. We needed to get to the soft spots of the defense and Jerrin was able to do that."
Chandonais was guarded exceptionally well throughout the contest by the 6-foot-4 MacKenzie, but Stevens Point's top scorer did manage to slip free at a key point in the game. Running the court in transition, Chandonais took a pass from the wing and scored while being fouled. He completed the three-point play to help Stevens Point regain the lead for good at 32-30. The play seemed to switch momentum of the contest and helped to kick-start the Panthers' decisive 8-0 run. Chandonais finished with 11 points, and leads the team in scoring (16.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.3 rpg).
Carter Combs, 6-0, Sr., PG, Stevens Point
The Waukesha West transfer is having a solid senior season for the Panthers, averaging 8.8 points and a team-best 7.1 assists. He had six points, six assists and seven rebounds against Waunakee, but it was his ball handling, passing and basketball IQ that stood out most as he continually got into the lane and found open teammates. He also did a nice job of kicking the ball out to reset the offense if there was nothing open, and helped to salt the game away with his quickness with the ball and decision making when SPASH spread the court for the final few minutes of the game. "Carter has been our floor leader," Krull said. "At times, he can play a little too fast, but he's a smart player who knows when he has to slow down"
"We had chances to adapt in our loss to Wausau East last week. It was a physical game and was called that way. We put them to the line 41 times. But in the five days since, I like how we have re-grouped. We have really focused on the defensive end and that helped us tonight." -- Stevens Point coach Jon Krull
Waunakee had trouble finding the bottom of the basket from three-point range and also struggled to finish around the basket. It also didn't help the Warriors' cause to miss seven free throws ... MacKenzie's ability to guard Chandonais was probably the bright spot of the game for the Warriors ... MacKenzie, Jake Bova and Keaton Frisch each scored eight points to top Waunakee ... Freshman Wes DuCharme (6-3) is earning some key varsity minutes after starting the season on the Waunakee JV squad.