STOUGHTON — Opening night apparently brings out the best in Stoughton’s Cael McGee.
McGee, a 6-foot-2 junior, scored 14 of his game-high 22 points in the first half and led Stoughton to a 53-44 victory over Lake Mills in a non-conference boys basketball game Tuesday night.
His offensive output, which included a steal and breakaway slam that boosted the Vikings’ lead to 31-18 with 33.5 seconds left in the first half, came a year after he opened the 2018-19 season with a career-high 31 points in a victory over Janesville Parker.
“(The opener) gets me going,” said McGee, who also had seven rebounds. “I’m excited. But I have to be consistent like that.”
That plus a solid defensive effort, particularly while playing man-to-man, propelled the Vikings.
“Our defense really got everything going for us in that first half,” Stoughton coach Nolan Weber said. “I thought it got better and better as the half went on.”
McGee missed a third of last season due to injuries, first to his left ankle early in the year then to his right ankle after he returned. He wound up averaging 10 points in 15 games.
“I think we played pretty well for our first game,” the left-handed McGee said. “We came out and I thought we shot pretty well considering how we were in practice, we rebounded well and we played really good defense.
“When they were in zone, my teammates found me in open spots at the rim and they found me in transition. They found me in good spots where I could score.”
Weber said McGee has had an up-and-down prep career thus far.
“He’s an extremely talented player,” Weber said. “Obviously, he’s very athletic. I think he’s starting to put it together.”
Senior guard Nathan Hutcherson made four 3-pointers and had 12 points and eight rebounds, and 6-6 junior Reece Sproul grabbed a team-high nine boards for Stoughton.
Junior Charlie Bender had a team-high 14 points and senior Mike Herrington had 13 for Lake Mills, which was without 6-4 junior Adam Moen.
Moen, who was the leading passer for yardage (3,517 yards) and touchdowns thrown (39) in the state this season for the football team, is expected to miss a couple weeks due to a strained ligament in his left thumb (non-throwing hand) that he sustained in the first drill of the first practice, Lake Mills coach Steve Hicklin said.
The Vikings broke open the game with a 13-2 run in the final 5 minutes, 38 seconds of the first half.
McGee scored on a drive and Hutcherson hit a 3-pointer during a 7-0 run that increased Stoughton’s lead to 25-16.
McGee then scored the final six points of the half on a baseline drive; a slashing move down the lane after taking a feed from 6-4 senior Adam Hobson, a Michigan Tech commit; and the steal at midcourt, followed by the dunk that made it 31-18 at halftime.
“I thought that gave us a lot of energy,” McGee said.
Said Hicklin: “Their first half of defense was phenomenal. They really took us out of what we normally want to do. We had to go to a little different offense — more driving and attacking the rim versus screening and moving the ball.”
Lake Mills, which had an 18-6 record last year, rallied with an 8-0 run in the second half. The L-Cats switched to a 1-3-1 defense and cut their deficit from 33-20 to 33-28.
McGee made consecutive 3-pointers, boosting Stoughton’s lead to 46-35. After Hutcherson’s 3-pointer put Stoughton ahead 49-40 with 5:11 to play, the L-Cats again clawed back.
Bender’s 17-foot jumper pulled Lake Mills within 49-44 with 1:48 remaining, but Lake Mills junior guard Drew Stoddard’s 3-point attempt rimmed out with 1:22 left.
Sophomore Luke Fernholz’s inside score with 48 seconds left gave Stoughton a 51-44 lead and helped secure the victory.
The scoring output from McGee and Hutcherson was welcomed after Lake Mills limited Hobson to four points.
“(Hutcherson’s 3-point shooting) is a huge advancement for us because we struggled to shoot the ball last year and struggled with consistency in finding that second or third guy who can make perimeter shots,” said Weber, whose team was 13-11 last year.
Lake Mills 18 26 — 44
Stoughton 31 22 — 53
LAKE MILLS (fg ft-fta pts) — Herrington 4 3-4 13; Stoddard 3 1-1 8; Retrum 2 0-0 4; Bender 5 2-4 14; Johnson 2-2 2; Horkan 1 0-0 3. Totals 15 8-11 44.
STOUGHTON — Hutcherson 4 0-0 12; McGee 9 2-3 22; Knauf 1 0-0 3; Hobson 0 4-4 4; Sproul 1 0-2 2; Jasulke 1 1-2 3; Fernholz 2 0-0 4; Nelson 1 1-2 3. Totals 19 8-13 53.
3-point goals: LM 6 (Herrington 2, Bender 2, Stoddard 1, Horkan 1); S 7 (Hutcherson 4, McGee 2, Knauf 1). Total fouls: LM 16; S 16. Fouled out: Herrington.