After a close first half battle, the Menomonie boys basketball team allowed Chippewa Falls to break away in the second half to hand the Mustangs their second loss of the season Friday at Menomonie High School.
Friday’s defeat echoed a similar loss to Eau Claire Memorial last Tuesday in the season opener, as the Mustangs gave up a 15-point halftime lead to drop 52-51.
Menomonie head coach Matt Riley thinks Tuesday’s loss did carry over to their game against the Cardinals. “We have to learn not to let things compound and play possession by possession each game,” he said “We need to be more aggressive towards the rim in our offense for the rest of the season.”
The Mustangs (0-2, 0-2) jumped out to a 14-9 lead midway through the first half. But the Cardinals (1-2, 1-1) took the lead after four consecutive baskets at the glass to go up 15-14. Both teams battled hard in the remaining minutes of the first half to knot at 20-20 at intermission.
The first six minutes of the second half was all Chi-Hi, opening up the second half with a 9-0 run to lift to a 29-22 advantage. Menomonie’s Ethan Wurtzel broke their momentum with a 2-point basket with 12:10 left to go. That was answered by the Cardinals, but Jace Kressin and Jake Ebert added five to the board to narrow Chi-Hi’s lead to four, the closest they would get to catching the Cardinals for the remainder of the game.
But that doesn’t mean the Mustangs didn’t give it their all. Just as Chi-Hi would gain a few points, Menomonie would whittle it down again. The Cardinals bumped back up to a 36-29 lead, but a pair of trips to the free throw line for Sam Zbornik and Dylan Boecker brought the Mustangs back within four.
A big 3-point basket from Chi-Hi lifted them back up to a seven point lead with 6:25 remaining. Though the Mustangs shot well from the free throw line, sinking five of eight attempts, the Cardinals blasted another 3-pointer and added six charity shots of their own to claim the triumph.
“We didn’t screen and cut with authority in the second half,” Riley said following the game. “We allowed them to push us away from the hoop causing us to settle for contested jumpers.”
Boecker shared the game-high with Chi-Hi’s Tyler Robarge at 12 points. Wurtzel came away with seven points, scoring a 3-pointer in the first half and a 2-point basket in each half. Ebert and Brenden Johnston both chipped in six points apiece.
Menomonie shot 13-for-21 a the free throw line while Chi-Hi shot 14-for-27.
Riley said that along with more aggression at the offensive rim, the Mustangs plan to focus on improving on rebounding and overall toughness for the remainder of the season.
This week’s games for the Mustangs began with a home court matchup Tuesday against La Crosse Logan (1-0) and will return to conference play Friday at home against River Falls (0-1).