WAHOO — Bishop Neumann’s boys basketball team learned its lesson the hard way a month ago about slow starts.
That may be why the Class C-1 No. 3 Cavaliers came charging out of the gate quickly and then sprinted to the finish line late to claim a 72-61 home victory over Class B No. 5 Bennington on Thursday night.
Neumann (7-3) started the season 0-2, the second loss coming in a 17-point home setback to Class B No. 9 Mount Michael Benedictine.
“We came out lacking intensity in that game, and we didn’t play with the edge you have to have against the top teams,” said 6-foot-1 senior guard Trey Ahrens, who scored 14 of his team-high 21 points in the first half when the Cavaliers built a 33-20 margin after leading by as many as 16 in the second period.
“Tonight we came out with the defensive intensity we want to play with all the time in our 1-3-1 (zone) and that just helped feed us offensively.”
Neumann limited the Badgers (6-3) to just two points over a span of 8 minutes, 25 seconds, a sequence in which the Cavaliers went from a 10-7 deficit midway through the first quarter to a 26-12 margin with 2:43 left in the first half.
Ahrens, who had 12 first-quarter points, was 8-of-12 from the field to pace a 24-of-39 shooting performance from Neumann (61 percent). Kobey Simons, a senior guard, had 13 of his 20 points in the second half, while another senior, Eli Vedral, chipped in 13.
That balance was more than enough to overcome a 31-point outburst from Bennington senior all-stater Cooper Prososki. The Badgers’ leading scorer this season, senior all-stater Karson Gansebom, was held to six points, all in the second half.
“We looked fresh out there defensively and we were making powerful, quick movements to where we needed to be,” Neumann coach Mike Weiss said. “When the ball is going through the basket like it was for us tonight, that also energizes your defense.”
Bennington made a run with 22 third quarter points, cutting the deficit to 45-42 on a three-pointer from Jackson Prososki with 30 seconds left in the period. Neumann, however, answered with a three from Vedral from the right wing with three seconds left to push the cushion back to six heading into the final eight minutes.
The Cavaliers used that momentum to extend the lead back to 13 with just over a minute remaining as they hit 13 of 18 free throws in the fourth quarter to ice it.
“Eli’s three was huge,” Ahrens said. “Bennington came out shooting lights-out in the third quarter and that shot was a momentum-killer for them and a momentum-builder for us.”
Bennington coach Luke Olson said Gansebom is coming back from a case of the flu, “and he looked a little tired out there tonight.” Olson credited Neumann’s aggressive 1-3-1 trap with his team’s sometimes spotty offensive performance.
“We played a good third quarter, but we just didn’t keep making enough of those plays in the fourth quarter,” Olson said. “Neumann’s defense made us uncomfortable shooting the ball, and it seemed like when our guys missed a couple shots, they got a little tentative.”