MADISON — For the second consecutive year, a team with multiple weapons and rare size for Division 5 is headed to the state championship game.
This time, though, it’s not Chippewa Falls McDonell.
The defending state champion ran into a big, talented buzz saw in the form of Shullsburg on Friday morning and fell 63-48 in the WIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinals at the Kohl Center.
So instead of the Macks (24-4) chasing back-to-back state titles today, it’ll be the Miners (26-2) hunting the school’s second title and first since winning Division 4 in 1991.
“We put in all that hard work throughout the season to get back to where we knew we could be,” senior forward Grayson Knowlton said. “Once we got here, we just couldn’t execute all the things we usually pride ourselves on. That’s upsetting.”
Knowlton scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Macks. He did yeoman’s work in the first half to keep McDonell afloat offensively while Alex Ohde and Hayden Baughman were on the bench with two fouls each. Knowlton’s work in the post and tenacity on the glass helped the Macks take a six-point lead into halftime.
In the second half, though, they fell victim to the rare team that could match their balance and size — it probably was the first matchup of its kind since the advent of Division 5. Shullsburg shot 63.2 percent from the field in the second half while holding McDonell to 28.6 percent.
“Basically we stopped settling,” Shullsburg’s Joseph Meyer said. “First half, we kind of settled a little bit for quick shots or not-so-good shots. Just making the extra pass. It worked out well.”
Meyer, the 6-foot-9 senior forward who will play for Division II Minnesota-Crookston, is the centerpiece of the Miners’ Princeton chin offense. All of the action takes place at or above the free-throw line extended. Meyer sets up shop in the high post, where he can either attack off the dribble or find a bevy of backdoor cutters or spot-up shooters.
“We rely on ball pressure and weakside help,” McDonell coach Archie Sherbinow said. “If you can get the ball in the middle of the floor, that really can play havoc with our weakside help.”
Shullsburg’s starting lineup includes the 6-foot-9 Meyer, 6-foot-3 guard Lance Lierman, 6-foot-5 guard Hunter Matye and 6-foot-4 forward Noah Wand. Because of that across-the-board size, the Miners rarely get to run their base offense. Usually they’re facing a heavy dose of zone. But facing a similar team with similar defensive concepts, they were able to do what they do best Friday.
“We were pretty excited that we were going to get to play against a man team,” Shullsburg coach Mark Lierman said.
Matye had 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to lead Shullsburg, which advanced to face Barneveld in today’s state championship game. Wand scored 13 points and Lance Lierman — the coach’s son — added 12. Meyer had his minutes limited by foul trouble but had 11 points and five rebounds.
All of those offensive options spelled the end of the best two-year run in McDonell’s WIAA history. The Macks shared the Western Cloverbelt title with Eau Claire Regis last year and claimed it outright this year. They followed up the school’s first WIAA state title with only its third trip to the WIAA state tournament.
Friday’s loss also meant a goodbye to one of the program’s most successful senior classes. Among those graduating will be Knowlton, Ohde and Nathan Hoglund. All three started on both state tournament teams, and all three were all-conference honorees this season. Ohde departs as McDonell’s all-time leading scorer and the reigning conference player of the year. Austin Amelse, Ryan Sorensen, Wesley Benish and Jordan Moulton also will be lost to graduation.
“I’m extremely proud of our guys,” Sherbinow said. “We battled. We had a nice year. Worked hard to get here and played a very talented team in Shullsburg. I think we have to take our hats off to them.”