When Appleton North was finally able, it went to its full-court press defense Tuesday.
But even after it propelled the Lightning to a 48-41 win over Appleton East in a foul-plagued Fox Valley Association boys’ basketball game at North, coach Eric Eastman wasn’t ready to call it his go-to defense.
“Their starting point guard was out of the game, so we can’t have too much confidence about it,” said Eastman, referring to East senior Pierce Moriarty, who did not play because of a back issue.
“But, yes, we can build on it, for sure. And our kids want to get up and down the floor. There are a lot of teams that don’t. We want to create our own pace and our own tempo, so it’s definitely something we can build on.”
The Patriots got off to a 9-0 lead as North began with six straight empty trips down court.
“We did not start out well,” said Eastman. “Just because we missed shots it doesn’t give us the excuse to not go down and defend the way we’re capable of. I thought after those first four minutes, I think we were somewhat a little traumatized because we couldn’t make a shot.
“You know East makes you play a lot of defense and we have a couple of breakdowns here and there and then you get behind against a team like that. But once we made a couple of shots and got to the free throw line, then we could get into our press.”
The Lightning trailed 12-5 at the end of the first quarter but set up in its press to start the second and it changed the game’s pace and momentum.
East had six turnovers in the quarter but still managed to take a 24-18 halftime lead. But two turnovers off the press followed by three straight missed shots allowed North to take its first lead, 25-24, on a driving layup by Ian Gerrity early in the third quarter.
“We got after it on the defensive end and we caused some turnovers and got out and ran, that’s what we’re best at,” said North senior guard Max Johansen. “We’re short and scrappy and like to fight a lot, and I think that was the difference.”
So did the play of Johansen, who went scoreless in the first half but finished with a team-high 16 points.
“He came up big,” said Eastman. “He didn’t play well in the first half. He’d be the first one that would tell you that. He really willed us to win that game.”
That and the Lightning defense, which limited East to just four second-half baskets. North also made 17 of 23 free throws in the second half, including eight by Johansen, and finished 26-of-36 for the game as the two teams were whistled for 46 fouls.
But it was the press that ignited North’s comeback.
“I was very pleased we didn’t give up a lot on the backside off it, considering we were doubling,” Eastman said. “I loved our rotations back from the weakside … to stop them from getting any layups off our double team. So if we can continue to do that and not have teams expose us when we don’t get a turnover, then it’s definitely something we can use very frequently. But the kids have to get better at it.”
As the road gets more difficult, Johansen knows it will be an important part of the Lightning’s arsenal.
“I think we’ll get better at it each game. We’ll get more experience with it,” said Johansen. “We’ll be able to jump at the right time and cut off the angles, and I think it will help us going forward against the tougher teams with the guards like (Oshkosh North’s Nate) Neveau and (Neenah’s Adam) Pohlman, that we can try to disrupt them a little. It will be hard but I hope that we’ll continue to get better at the press.”
Appleton East: Feucht 1, Herrmann 17, Thome 14, Lemons 2, Brunker 7. Totals: 12 10-18 41. Three-pointers: Herrmann 3, Brunker 2, Thome 2. Total fouls: 25.
Appleton North: Dudley 3, Lukashewich 4, Johansen 16, Mattioli 4, Goeden 5, Gerrity 14, Nelson 2. Totals: 20 26-36 48. Three-pointers: Johansen, Mattioli. Total fouls: 21.