Oak Creek senior forward Drew Yetka continued his stellar season with 31 points in the Knights' 54-44 rally and victory over Sheboygan North on Saturday, Feb. 4, at the John Chekouras Boys Basketball Classic at Homestead.
The points were nice, noted Yetka, the leading scorer for the 15-2 Southeast Conference leaders, but he and the rest of the Knights knew it was stout second-half defense that won this game for them. It was the eighth victory in a row for Oak Creek.
"It's our trademark, definitely," Yetka said. "Even when the shots aren't going down like they weren't last night (in a 42-33 Southeast Conference win over Kenosha Tremper), defense can still get us wins."
Defense was definitely needed, especially against Golden Raider senior guard Zach Hasenstein, who peppered the Knights for five 3-pointers and 19 points in the first half, when the Knights were caught short-handed because senior defensive stopper Joey Zietlow picked up his second foul and had to sit not even 3½ minutes in. The result was a back-and-forth first half that Hasenstein sent into a 26-26 tie with his last trey with just over a minute to go.
Oak Creek coach Mike Jossie knew there was a way to turn things around.
"Our effort was good in the first half," he said, "because our (defensive) effort was good. We were just frustrated because 23 (Hasenstein) kept hitting shot after tough shot. We knew we had to tighten things up."
Zietlow came back in in the second half and played nearly the entire session, and the Knights were able to get back to being their normal selves.
But the results were not quite apparent immediately.
Hasenstein hit two free throws with 14:19 left for a 35-32 North lead, and it was after Yetka's third foul, too. He had scored 16 first-half points to keep the Knights in the game.
Then Oak Creek turned up the defensive intensity, holding North scoreless for over six minutes and going on a game-changing 13-0 run. A Yetka drive gave the Knights the lead for good at 36-35 with 13:14 left. He later hit a big 3-pointer and converted a three-point play.
By the time North's Ben Lorge hit a layup at the 7:53 mark, Oak Creek was up, 45-37, and the lead would never drop below eight again.
Hasenstein finished with 27 points but just eight in the second half with no further 3-pointers.
"We just had to put in a little more work in the second half," Yetka said. "This was awesome. Coach told us that this was a big win, and it should help with our confidence and our sectional seeding. It was awesome that we got invited here. It's great recognition for our program and a great way to be seen because that was a really good team we beat."
Jossie agreed it was a good signature win in the high-profile, one-day, six-game showcase.
"We didn't play the greatest last night," he said of the Tremper game. "We knew we could have played better. With that on their minds, the guys could have said 'No' to this, but in the end, it was a huge game for our program and for seeding purposes. It couldn't have happened without the efforts of these kids and those who came before them."
Jossie said Zietlow did a great job in the second half and that post Bobby Smith continued to do the little things the team needs to win. He and Zietlow had 6 points each.
"Playing teams like this (North) which screen so well can be a real challenge for us," he added.
The Knights improved to 9-1 in league play with the win over Tremper the night before. They have a testy week with games against Racine Horlick at home (7-4 in league) on Feb. 7 and at Racine Case (8-2) on Friday, Feb. 10. An elusive conference title is close at hand, but Yetka said the Knights are keeping things in perspective.
"We're all getting a little excited," he said. "Conference is a big goal, but it's not our only goal. It's a stepping stone to other bigger things we want to get done."