WISCONSIN DELLS — Against a team that averaged 65 points per game last season, the Holmen High School boys basketball team’s defense was up to the task Friday afternoon.
The Vikings’ offense, on the other hand, faltered as they failed to finish things off in a 49-46 loss to Wisconsin Dells in the opening game of the JustAgame Holiday Classic at JustAgame Fieldhouse in Wisconsin Dells. Senior Ben Olson scored a team-high 15 points but was the only Holmen scorer in double figures, as the Vikings shot just 13 of 26 from the free throw line and had a number of missed chances.
“I think, obviously, defensively we were fine, but offensively we were poor,” said Holmen coach Steve Blank, who had the Vikings for 16 missed layups. “If you shore those up and take care of the ball, you win going away, and we struggled with that.”
Those squandered opportunities hurt the most late when the Chiefs began to reel the Vikings back in. After Holmen led 37-30 with 10 minutes, 18 seconds left to play, the Chiefs went on a 10-2 run, capped off by a runner from senior Dylan Nevar, to seize a 40-39 lead with 6:30 to go.
The Vikings answered, however, with Olson connecting on a pair of free throws before backing down Wisconsin Dells senior Sam Millard for a layup to go up 43-40 with 5:30 remaining. After Millard, who scored a game-high 17 points, and Holmen senior Landon Pederson traded buckets, the Vikings took a 45-42 lead with 4:35 left, but went cold from there.
A layup by Wisconsin Dells senior Bryson Funmaker cut the lead to 45-44 before Millard gave the Chiefs the lead for good. After Holmen turnover, the lengthy forward canned a 3-pointer from the right wing for a 47-45 lead with 2:35 to go.
Millard, who scored 13 points in the second half, added a tip-in for a 49-45 lead with 2:15 remaining. The Vikings made it a one-possession game when Olson split a pair of free throws with 1:38 to play, but they couldn’t get the lead back.
“We just didn’t have a guy going to recover,” Blank said of the lead-changing 3-pointer by Millard. “Or somebody to just make a play, and I’ll take the blame for that. We just didn’t finish the way we showed up, and I’ll totally take the blame for that.”
In a defense-driven first half, the teams tied at 11 just past the midway point of the first half before Holmen went on a 10-0 run for a 21-11 lead with just over 3 minutes remaining until the break.
The Chiefs battled back, cutting the halftime deficit down to 23-21 before the Vikings again got hot to start the second half. Holmen came out of the break on a 12-4 run for a 35-25 lead, but the Wisconsin Dells defense made things difficult the rest of the way.
“We knew what they were going to do, but we just haven’t seen a lot of it and we have some pretty inexperienced guards. We struggled with it at times, and others we got to the rim and did a nice job,” Blank said.
Behind Olson, senior Cameron Weber added eight points, while senior Caleb Matl chipped in six.
“We lost a lot from last year, a lot of our leadership, and it could take a while but hopefully we’ll build from it and get better,” he said.