The D.C. Everest boys basketball team seems to have rediscovered its winning formula and that is starting to spell bad news for opposing Wisconsin Valley Conference offenses.
Combining a stingy defense with a patient offensive attack, the Evergreens shut down the top scoring offense in the Valley en route to a 46-31 victory over Marshfield Friday night at the Everest Fieldhouse.
It was the third straight conference win for Everest, which improved to 3-1 in league play and 4-3 overall. The Tigers, who came in tied for the league lead with Stevens Point, fell to 2-1 in the Valley and 3-3 overall.
“It was a good win heading into Christmas time,” Everest coach Cory Heckel said. “It was our last conference game heading into the break and now we’ve got three in a row, so we’re trending in the right direction.”
The recent streak, which includes a 41-40 win over Wisconsin Rapids and a 42-21 victory over Wausau East, is in stark contrast to the beginning of the season when the Evergreens were giving up 74 points a game in two nonconference losses.
“We’ve made huge strides defensively, going from giving 74 points a game to 35, 40, 21 and 31,” Heckel said. “I thought we played very good team defense against a very skilled perimeter team.”
The Evergreens held Marshfield’s Lucas Zuiker, who came into the game averaging 22.5 points in conference play, to just seven points. They also outrebounded the Tigers, 23-8, in the game.
“That’s how you win games,” Marshfield coach Bill Zuiker said. “I told the kids, they will make a 3 or two, but they are not a quick-shooting, outside team. They are patient running their offense and get what they want. They’ve got kids that do what they want them to do.
“Tonight, they handled the ball soundly and made their free throws. You get a 10-point lead and it’s over in this conference.”
The Evergreens didn’t get that 10-point lead until the end of the third quarter when an 8-1 run put them up 33-23 heading into the fourth. Two baskets in the post by 6-8 senior Jared Gjertson and a layup by Nick Sierakowski put Everest up by 14 and Zach Finnegan hit 7 of 8 free throws the rest of the way to seal the win.
Finnegan and Gjertson gave the Evergreens all the offense they needed, combining for 37 points. Finnegan led the way with a game-high 23.
“Finnegan, he makes things happen but at the same time, he doesn’t force anything,” Zuiker said. “He picks his spots and he goes.
Gjertson added 14 points on 6 of 7 shooting from the field and probably could have had more.
“Gjertson is a load and it was very telling down the stretch when they were trying to run clock,” Zuiker said. “He had about a four-footer and he turned it down. That’s a guy who understands what his team needs to do to win.”
Heckel said the recent success is a matter of his players believing in what they are being asked to do and gaining some confidence.
“I’m proud of our kids and thought they played pretty well within our game plan,” Heckel said. “Our role players are settling in and helping the team.”
Luke Olson led the Tigers with 14 points, including four 3-pointers.
“We have to go to SPASH on Thursday, so we have got to get our heads back together,” Zuiker said. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for us, but we’ll rebound. We have good kids.”
MARSHFIELD (31): Isaac Accola 4, Matt Oestreich 3, Lucas Zuiker 7, Luke Olson 14, Alex Strege 2, Mitch Ott 1. FG: 11-35, 31%. FT: 4-6, 67%.
EVEREST (46): Zach Finnegan 23, Nick Sierakowski 4, Jon Rohr 3, Josh Nielson 2, Jared Gjertson 14. FG: 17-34, 50%. FT: 10-11, 91%.
3-point field goals: Marshfield 5 (Olson 4, Zuiker); Everest 2 (Finnegan, Rohr). Records: Marshfield 3-3, 2-1 WVC; Everest 4-3, 3-1.