Randy Jacobson didn’t have an extended impact on the Aquinas High School boys basketball team’s WIAA Division 4 regional final against Onalaska Luther, but it was significant.
The 6-foot-6 senior sat most of the first half with two fouls, but his return ushered in a much different second half for the Blugolds, who beat the Knights 57-37 in front of more than 1,100 people at the Reinhart Athletic Complex on Saturday.
Jacobson’s return to the floor brought an immediate impact for Aquinas (13-12), which saw the court open up drastically for Brandon Merfeld and Conley Malone while earning a sectional semifinal game against Mineral Point (20-4) at Richland Center, Wis., on Wednesday.
Mineral Point has won 14 straight games and averages 77 points per game.
Malone scored 10 of his 18 points in the second half and Merfeld 13 of his 15 after the Blugolds took a 23-21 lead to halftime.
“It all started with defense, but we got great play from both Randy and Bryce (Lee) on (Onalaska Luther’s Bennett) Loersch,” Malone said. “Loersch is one of the better big men around, and I thought those two guys did a great job.”
Jacobson’s first 3 minutes, 33 seconds of the second half included four points, two offensive rebounds, one defensive rebound, one steal and one assist. Merfeld hit a 3-pointer before all of that, and Malone hit another after it to give Aquinas a 35-21 lead on the 12-0 run.
“We talked about what gaps we needed to get into against their zone,” Aquinas coach Brad Reinhart said. “We knew it wasn’t going to happen at once, but Randy made some plays, and we had five guys knowing where the ball needed to go.”
Senior Noah Matzke scored a team-high 10 points for the Knights (14-11), who also received nine from the 6-10 Loersch.
Onalaska Luther had to battle Aquinas sophomore Gavin Wetzel to stay in the game early. Wetzel scored eight of his 12 points in the first half and had six of his team’s first 10.
Jacobson went to the bench with his second foul as 14:19 remained, and Reinhart turned to Lee as a replacement. Lee made two nice passes — on consecutive possessions — in the lane that led to Wetzel baskets that gave Aquinas control.
“Bryce has played minutes, but not like the stretch we needed from him tonight,” Reinhart said of his 6-4 junior. “He was able to battle with a great offensive player (Loersch).
“Having two fouls on Randy could have been disastrous for us, but he helped us out there.”
The Knights fought back and led 16-13 after a 3-pointer by Emery Byus and layup by Matzke, but the Blugolds scored 10 of the next 12.
A 3-pointer by Malone from the right corner seemed to give the Blugolds momentum with 7 seconds left in the half, but Ben Kutz responded with a buzzer-beating 3 at the other end to cut his team’s deficit to 23-21.