Ellsworth boys hooops smother Durand, win playoff gameEllsworth clinched its first playoff victory in four years Tuesday behind its smothering defense and patient offense in a 50-35 WIAA Division 3 Regional playoff victory over Durand.
By: Nick Gerhardt - Red Wing Republican-Eagle, Pierce County Herald
ELLSWORTH – Ellsworth clinched its first playoff victory in four years Tuesday behind its smothering defense and patient offense in a 50-35 WIAA Division 3 Regional playoff victory over Durand.
The seventh-seeded Panthers (14-8) held 12th-seeded Durand scoreless in the first quarter and went up by 14. Durand didn’t score a basket until nearly midway through the second quarter as Ellsworth shut down passing lanes and contested shots.
“That’s been our stress all year long,” Panthers head coach Cory Brathol said. “We have to play defense and we have to rebound. … If they want to win big games that’s where it starts and I saw that in them tonight.”
The Panthers forced 15 turnovers in the game and took advantage, not in transition, but in the halfcourt where they methodically worked the ball around the perimeter until a good look opened up.
Ellsworth shot 21 of 42 from the field for 50 percent and that came in spite of going 3 of 13 from 3-point range.
Lemoine Steffen led the Panthers with a season-high 22 points and finished seven rebounds. Ellsworth got seven points from Adam Kearns and six apiece from Jacob Betthauser and Chrystian Kulow.
“Nobody wanted to go home with a loss,” Steffen said. “Mentally I went into the game thinking that I’m not going to allow us to lose this game. I’ve played basketball since kindergarten, I couldn’t imagine not playing it anymore. I just went in, every open shot I had I was willing to capitalize.”
Steffen has provided the offense for the Panthers much of the season since moving back to the area in the fall.
“He’s an awesome player,” Betthauser said. “Without him we all have to work a lot harder. He’s a lifesaver on the team.”
Steffen’s production helped Ellsworth as Campbell dealt with foul trouble the majority of the game.
Durand finished 11 of 36 from the field for 31 percent and was led by Drew Minturn’s 14 points. Jory Wagner added 13 points.
After falling behind by 14 to open the game, Durand rallied in the second quarter and cut it to an eight-point deficit as the half drew to a close. But Kulow hit a 3 as time expired to put the Panthers up 11.
“The guys are starting to play,” Brathol said. “They understand what they’re doing on the court, they’re confident about it and it’s fun to watch.”
Again in the third quarter Durand tried to get back in the game, but Ellsworth continued to close out strongly. Durand made it a nine-point game in the final two minutes of the third, but Alex Campbell came up with a steal and a layup to make it an 11-point lead. Tyler Marson finished the quarter with an exclamation point when he converted a three-point play with eight-tenths of second left to give the Panthers a 14-point lead.
Durand never got closer than 12 points in the fourth quarter as Ellsworth patiently worked the ball around and waited for Durand’s defense to wilt away.
“Coach has always said if we have the ball they can’t score,” Steffen said. “It gets them to expand their defense so we have our wide-open layups.”
The Panthers move on to face the No. 2 seeded Westby Friday at 7 p.m. in Westby.