skip navigation

Division 2 Semi-Final Notes: Wisconsin Lutheran, Pewaukee on collision course for state title

03/16/2024, 12:00am CDT
By Dick Knapinski

WSN Basketball Playoff Coverage presented by the Buckle Up Phone Down Pledge

Join the Buckle Up Phone Down movement! WisDOT challenges Wisconsin to put safety first by taking the two most important actions to prevent or survive a crash. Accept the Buckle Up Phone Down challenge. Use your seat belt every trip and put down the phone when driving. Take the Buckle Up Phone Down pledge!

Wisconsin Lutheran 56, Nicolet 54

Kon Knueppel felt himself slipping and with it, perhaps his team’s chance for a state title. The Wisconsin Lutheran senior entered the final seconds of Friday’s Division 2 semifinal against Nicolet knowing he would get the ball in his hands to break a 54-54 tie. But then things started to go sideways, literally.

“I came off the ball screen and they switched it pretty high – I didn’t get low enough; I should have got a little lower – and my foot slipped but luckily Z (sophomore Zavier Zens) was right there,” Knueppel said of the final play when he drove right and lost his footing. “I tried to bounce it right off to him and he was there and got it.”

The basketball lost by Knueppel bounced to Zens, who then fired it to Alex Greene for the winning layup at the buzzer in the unbeaten Vikings’ escape over the Knights to advance to Saturday night’s championship game against Pewaukee.

“We always preach keep with the play, even if they don’t always go as planned,” Greene said. “I just saw the open space, so I cut and flashed, and good things happened.”

The wild finish came after an equally thrilling comeback by Nicolet (24-5), which trailed 45-35 with 8:22 remaining. The Knights’ Davion Hannah and Nacir Beamon combined to erase the deficit in little over two minutes.

That set up a back-and-forth final five minutes when neither team could lead by more than three. Damon Landrum Jr. buried a three-pointer with 2:11 left to put Nicolet up 54-52, but Knueppel followed with a fading jumper to tie it with 1:14 remaining.

While Knueppel, this year’s Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin, performed as advertised with a game-high 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting, Beamon was a continual nuisance on defense that made Knueppel work harder to find his openings.

“I just wanted to come with my defense and be competitive,” Beamon said.

Knueppel did hit a long three-pointer at the halftime buzzer, giving the Vikings a 29-26 lead at the break. It was an entertaining moment at the time but one that loomed large at game’s end.

“We talk to the kids about that; everything matters,” Vikings coach Ryan Walz said.

Logan Rindfleisch added 11 points for Wisconsin Lutheran (29-0), which shot 24-of-36 from the field, tying the Division 2 field-goal percentage record set by Racine St. Catherine’s in 2005. Beamon paced Nicolet with 21 points and Hannah added 15.

The upcoming championship matchup with Pewaukee, the third time the teams will meet this season, also led Walz to recall a conversation with Pewaukee coach David Burkemper more than half a decade ago.

“I think it was four years ago, Dave and I were talking, and we had watched our kids coming up through the youth program,” he said. “We knew that we were both really loaded and I told him that either you or us are going to win the state championship for the next four years. They’ve upheld their end of it and we haven’t upheld our end of it. So for us to come up and play them tomorrow would mean a lot.”

Pewaukee 89, West Salem 69

The Pirates drive for a fourth straight Division 2 championship got off to a fast start against the Panthers, as Pewaukee used a 15-4 run to end the first half with a 49-31 advantage.

Senior guard Nick Janowski again led the Pirates (25-4), this time with a triple-double of 28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He finished the first half with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting, then spent much of the second half adding to his rebound and assist totals.

“It’s just his patience, in my opinion,” West Salem senior Tamarrein Henderson said of Janowski’s best basketball attributes. “He’s really patient with the ball. He moved it well, he took his time. If he got in trouble, he got on two feet and made the right pass. His decision making was really good and it’s hard to stop a guy like that.”

Meanwhile, junior Luka Momcilovic, who was a 37 percent three-point shooter this season, nailed four of five attempts on his way to a 23-point, 13-rebound effort. Add 11 points from 6-6 sophomore Tyler Tiutczenko, including three-of-five from behind the arc, plus 11 more from Owen Hake, and it made for a runaway for Pewaukee.

“I thought offensively, we were great,” Pirates coach David Burkemper said. “It was fun to watch the ball move and find shooters.”

Even with four players in double figures, West Salem could get no closer than 15 points in the second half as it hit only four of 15 three-point tries over the final 18 minutes. Kyle Hehli led the Panthers with 17 points, while Joe Sullivan added 13, Henderson 12, and Landon Michlig 10.

“Our kids can be proud of the season, we had a good season, but I think we’re a better basketball team than we showed today,” West Salem coach Mark Wagner said.

That leaves one step left for the Pirates to become just the fourth program to win four straight state championships, joining Dominican (Division 4, 2012-16) and Randolph (Division 4, 2002-05). That step will come against Woodland West Conference foe Wisconsin Lutheran, which won the teams’ first two meetings this year.

“I have three things,” Janowski said when asked what would make a difference in the third matchup this year. “Number one, my team. They are going be there and I know I can trust them. Number two, our defense. We’ve been giving way too many easy ones. And number three, we have to shoot the ball better. We were 27 percent the first time and 28 the second time from three, and that’s horrible for our team.”

Boys Basketball News

Tag(s): News Archive  BBB News  Boys Hoops Playoffs