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Monroe avoids collapse, wins late
Monroes Kade King puts up a shot during Saturdays win over Elkhorn. King scored a team-high 25 points. (Times photo: Mark Nesbitt)
MONROE - Playing its first game in 12 days, it became clear late in the second half the Monroe boys basketball team was not going to live and die by the 3-pointer.

The Cheesemakers fed the ball inside to junior Kade King and attacked the basket to get to the free throw line. The aggressive approach paid off as the Cheesemakers pulled out a thrilling 78-73 nonconference win over Elkhorn Saturday.

Elkhorn junior Vince Umnus scored 24 of his game-high 31 points in the second half. The Cheesemakers led by as many as 15 points, but Umnus scored 11 straight points in the second half and drilled five 3s to help the Elks storm back.

Umnus knocked down a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 51 seconds left to give the Elks a short-lived 65-63 lead. Monroe senior David Keegan hit a 3 and King scored down low to help the Cheesemakers take as 68-65 lead with 2:46 to go. Elkhorn 6-foot 10 senior Quinlan McDonald had a technical foul, which was his fifth and after King missed two free throws the Cheesemakers got the ball. Keegan made two free throws on the ensuing possession to give the Cheesemakers a 70-66 lead.

Umnus scored on a layup with 22.2 seconds to go to cut the Cheesemakers' lead to 74-73. Monroe (4-4, 2-2 Badger South) made 10 of 16 free throws in the final 2 minutes to seal the win. Umnus rimmed out a 3-point shot with 8.9 seconds to go that would have tied the game.

"We had to get in his face because he (Umnus) was knocking them down well beyond the 3-point arc," said King, who scored a team-high 25 points. It was big for us. We have had games this year where we have had the lead in the second half and teams have come back to pull it off."

It marked the first game for the Cheesemakers in nearly two weeks.

"That is the best we have played all year on offense and defense," Monroe coach Brian Bassett said. "Offensively, all we have worked on for two weeks is getting into the lane jump stopping under control and if we don't have a shot kicking it out to an open shooter. We worked on getting it into the post and finding the cutters. I think we did a much better job of that than we have been."Monroe made 22 of 33 free throws. After going through a 4-for-10 stretch late in the second half, the Cheesemakers closed strong by going 6 of 6 in the final 28.7 seconds.

"Coach (Jerry) Tordoff always says free throws are something small, but they can win games," King said.

Monroe senior Brayden Zettle added 15 points and senior Jonah Tostrud had 10. Keegan and senior Hunter Ward each scored 9.

Early on, the Elks had no answer for King, who scored 10 of the Cheesemakers' first 13 points. The Cheesemakers opened the game with a play they used to run for Joe Latimer, and King knocked down a 3-pointer.

"I told him if he doesn't shoot the ball he will sit on the bench for a couple of minutes," Bassett said. "He's the type of kid you have to urge to shoot the ball and he really did tonight."

The Cheesemakers went on a 16-4 run in the first half sparked by Ward's layup. Junior Max Lange then knocked down a 3-pointer to extend the Cheesemakers' lead to 23-16 with 9:07 left in the first half. Keegan and Zettle then hit back-to-back jumpers to stretch the lead to 11 points. Monroe junior Dagon Rach scored on a layup to extend the lead to 29-16 with 5:42 left. Elkhorn cut the score to 32-25 at the half.

Zettle opened the second half strong knocking down a 3-pointer to push the lead back to 10 points, 35-25, and Monroe junior Kevin Schmidt hit a 2 of his own with 10:38 left in the second half to give the Cheesemakers a 13-point advantage. King followed by scoring on a layup to give the Cheesemakers' their biggest lead of 15 points, 52-37 with 10:22 left.

That set the stage for a nail-biting finish.

"I think we had really balanced scoring," Bassett said. "I think we did a good job of attacking the basket and not settling for jump shots. We have to keep working on our free throws. A lot of our guys had to step up. A lot of our guys haven't had the opportunity to step up to the line in a game like that before."