Pioneers lose at home to tenth ranked Whitewater

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville men’s basketball team faltered late in the second half as the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater defeated the Pioneers 80-68 at Bo Ryan Court, Jan. 29.

The Pioneers have played well in many first halves, but have struggled late in games this season.

Coach Jeff Gard, along with senior team leaders Chas Cross and Eric Gerber, know that there are issues with finishing important games down the stretch.

“In the first half, we came out and punched them in the face, caught them off guard and got a nice little lead,” Cross said. “In the second half, we went into a scoring lull, when we were in that (lull), we couldn’t string any stops together. We let them get the lead and they extended on it.”

In the first half the Pioneers went 15-24 from the field, good for 62.5 percent. Much of that was due to Cross, who did not miss a single shot from the field the whole game, going 11-11 overall and 3-3 from three-point range.

The Pioneers came out strong from the tip-off with a three-point basket from junior Jim Stocki. The rest of the half was a trade of baskets between the Pioneers and the Warhawks, with the leading margin never exceeding five points. The Pioneers facilitated each other well, as eight different players put points on the board.

Although Cross had no problem scoring offensively, he had his hands full with the responsibility of guarding the Warhawks’ Reggie Hearn down low, who went 11-15 and finished with 25 points.

“It’s every team in the conference. Everyone has a big guy. Tonight, he got going early, so he had his confidence and it was awfully hard to stop him. He was a big boy and he could score,” Cross said.

Despite the physical battle down low, Cross still managed to get five blocks on the game and a steal.

When the Warhawks failed to convert with Hearn in the post, they had players like senior Eric Bryson (4-5, 14 points) to kick to and hit the shot from three-point range.

The Pioneers’ good ball movement and up-tempo play in the first half gave them the 35-32 lead going into the break.

Following half time, the Pioneers failed to continue their effective play. Subsequently, the Warhawks took advantage of every mistake they made.

The Pioneers kept it a close game until 8:19 left in the game, when the Warhawks went on 14-0 run and took the biggest lead of the game at 59-72.

“In that situation, when you are not executing offensively, and we weren’t getting any stop as well, it was about midway through [the second half] when we would take a quick shot, miss it and they would capitalize off of it,” Gard said.

The Pioneers’ finally broke the run with 3:32 left in the game on a made free throw by Gerber. At that point it was too little, too late, with the Warhawks lead never dropping below nine points.

“They took advantage of our mistakes. We made a lot of mistakes on the ball, defending people, we didn’t switch very well,” Gerber said. “We haven’t executed down the stretch, it has been our biggest problem all year.”

Gerber finished the game with eight points, four assists and two steals. Sophomore Boston Johnson was the second leading scorer behind Cross with nine points off of two shots.

Despite the tough loss, the Pioneers know what they must do to improve their late game play and still have six conference games left in the year. Coach Gard knows what his team is capable of, as they stay optimistic heading into the final stretch of the year.

“I think we are still OK. Obviously it is a tough league,” Gard said. “As you look in this league, as the years have shown, anybody can beat anybody at any given time. We just have to take care of business.”

The Pioneers played last night at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, before heading to University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Saturday.