Free-throw-shooting may not be the flashiest part of the game, but it’s an important element of Kaukauna basketball.
The Ghosts have led the Fox Valley Association in free-throw accuracy the past six seasons and their ability to knock down one foul shot after another allowed them to fight off a serious challenge from tenacious Appleton East Friday night.
Kaukauna drained 22 of 26 free throws in the second half and 24 of 29 overall, giving the Ghosts the boost they needed for a hard-earned 51-45 boys’ basketball win in a season opener for both teams.
“Free-throw-shooting is something we really value and emphasize around here,” said Kaukauna coach Mike Schalow. “It’s kind of been a staple for us over the years. Last year, we were around 76 percent as a team and that’s really good. A goal we have every year is to finish in that upper 70s to 80 range.”
Kaukauna’s 83 percent marksmanship from the foul line was big on an opening night when the Ghosts struggled from the floor against East’s man-to-man defense. Kaukauna — a team expected to be dangerous from the perimeter — connected on just one three-pointer and produced only 15 first-half points.
“It was a war,” said Schalow. “It was a challenge, but our guys stayed the course and we did a great job of getting to the foul line. We had to because East made it a challenge every possession. It came down to us having the ball a little more in the second half. We probably played 10 of the 16 minutes in the first half on the defensive end because they’re so patient and they try and break you down. Their shot selection is very good.”
Trent Nytes, a 6-foot-3 senior forward, led a balanced Ghosts attack with 17 points, while fellow seniors Kyle Schalow and Carter Belling added 13 apiece.
“It’s tough playing against East because they put everyone in the paint and force you to shoot outside shots,” said Nytes. “This is a quality win for us.”
Nytes — slashing his way to the rim and drawing fouls — scored 11 of his points in the third quarter to give the Ghosts control of the game. He scored on back-to-back three-point plays to spark a 14-3 Ghosts surge to close the third quarter that turned a 21-20 deficit into a 34-24 Kaukauna lead.
“We were just trying to work it inside and draw fouls, and it worked out really well,” said Nytes.
Appleton East, though, made a final run at Kaukauna. Sam Herrmann drilled three three-point shots and Pierce Moriarty buried another to pull the Patriots within a basket heading into the final four minutes. But Kaukauna never lost the lead and fought off the Patriots the rest of the way from the foul line.
“We played hard, we just kind of broke down defensively the second half,” said East coach John Mielke. “We allowed them to get to the rim and our defense is designed to not let teams get to the rim. But it’s tough because they have some kids who can really shoot and that opens you up a bit. I thought our kids just extended out a little too far. Kaukauna is a great team. There’s a reason why they’re one of the better teams in our conference.”
Herrmann and Moriarty hit four threes apiece and both finished with 16 points to lead East.
Appleton East: Herrmann 16, Moriarty 16, Thome 3, Meyer 2, Froiland 4, Lemons 1, Brunker 3. Totals 13 10-14 45. Three-pointers: Hermann 4, Moriarty 4, Brunker. F: 23. Fouled out: Lemons.
Kaukauna: Patterson 2, Nytes 17, Schalow 13, Smasal 2, Hansen 2, Hake 2, Belling 13. Totals 13 24-29 51. Three-pointers: Schalow. F: 13.