MILWAUKEE - The Hodag basketball program capped a spectacle day at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee with a showcase 48-42 win over D.C. Everest on Saturday.
Rhinelander hoopsters from third graders through high schoolers got their chance to take the same floor as the Milwaukee Bucks - and the varsity team ensured the day was a success.
"It was a great experience. I'm glad that we decided to do this. I'm glad D.C. Everest invited us. It was a nice thing for our basketball community," said RHS basketball coach Derek Lemmens.
Playing in a spacious NBA arena, the Hodags (17-5) had to climb back from multiple fourth-quarter deficits to finally take care of the Evergreens (8-14).
The majority of the fourth quarter was tied, or the momentum was see-sawing back and forth between the two.
A Mitch Reinthaler three-pointer helped set the tone for the final three minutes in which the Hodags would lock up the win.
Just seconds after exiting the game due to a painful-looking booming fall, Reinthaler drained the left-corner triple to put Rhinelander up 38-37.
"That was a big momentum changer for us. I thought it could have gone the other way," Lemmens said.
The teams traded free throws and baskets after that, with the Hodags never dipping out of the lead in the final two minutes.
"It was nice for the guys. I think this was a good opportunity, and it's nice to add to it by having a win," Lemmens said.
Lemmens had predicted a sloppy start to the game for both teams, given the adrenaline-inducing setting. He was right.
Everest was stuck on two points for the first seven minutes, and the Hodags led only 8-4 after a quarter. Rhinelander never seemed to completely rid themselves of the shaky play.
"I thought I was over-coaching from the sideline. I thought guys were hesitant and not doing things with a purpose because they were too focused on me. That's something I have to get better at," Lemmens said.
Rhinelander led 21-18 at the half. Reinthaler had seven points in the first 16 minutes, and ended up leading the Hodags with 16 points on the afternoon.
The Hodags started the third quarter cold, and Everest drew even at the end of three. The Evergreens held leads of 33-32, 35-33, and 37-35 prior to the final stretch.
"It was hard for me to focus on the task at hand. It was tough for them to focus on the task at hand. I thought they did a good job of staying focused despite all of the distractions," Lemmens said.
Kent Mathews chipped in thirteen points for Rhinelander, and Ryan Dart had eight. Kyle Kurtenbach led Everest with 12.
Fortunately, Reinthaler's hard fall seems like it will have minor effects going forward.
"He got his legs taken out from under him, and he bumped his head pretty hard," Lemmens said. "I think he's okay. We're going to continue to monitor him, but he should be good."
The matchup was the last regular-season contest for both teams. In the WIAA postseason, the #1 seed Hodags await the winner of #4 Mosinee and #5 Medford on Tuesday. Rhinelander will host the victor on Friday evening.
Lemmens will use the week to focus on what his team needs to do.
"I think we could have done things better. Offensively, I didn't think our movement was crisp or purposeful as much as it should be. Defensively, keeping guys in front is going to be a big thing that we work on," he said.
Hear the game's audio play-by-play archive on HodagSports.com by hovering over the "Home" dropdown menu and selecting "Play-by-Play Audio Archives".