Close powers Middleton past Madison West

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Sam Close had 28 points in Middleton's win over Madison West./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

When your father runs a business called ‘Shot Dr. Academy,’ there’s a high level of pressure on you to also be a deadly shooter.

Sam Close has always been a marksman and one of the top shooters in the Madison-area. But Close, a senior guard at Middleton High School, has struggled at times this season.

Last Thursday, though, Close erupted for a career-high 28 points and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. In the process, Close helped power Middleton to an impressive 62-48 win over Madison West.

The Cardinals, who also defeated Madison Memorial two nights later, are now 11-6 overall and tied for fourth place in the Big Eight Conference at 8-5. Middleton also avenged a one-point loss to the Regents on Dec. 4.

“Sam hasn't been as automatic from three-point range as we had hoped early in the season,” Middleton coach Kevin Bavery said. “He grew so much athletically from his junior to senior year by spending quality time in the MHS strength and functional fitness program, so we started emphasizing to him to get in tune with all phases of the game and not put so much pressure on himself to hunt that three-point shot.

“He's been one of our leading defensive rebounders the past several games, is getting the ball in to the post, is guarding the ball better, and he's been taking the ball to the basket strong and finishing. He's more relaxed on his three-pointers now and the majority of his 28 points were from driving finishes and getting to the free throw line. And his constant threat from outside the arc stretches the defense and helps keep the lane open for teammates.”

Senior guard Jack Boyle added 15 points and made 9-of-11 free throws, including all six in the second half as West was forced to foul late. Close also made 8-of-9 free throws — including 7-of-8 in the second half — and the Cardinals were 24-of-29 overall from the charity stripe (82.8%).

Senior guard Chandon Thomas added seven points and seven rebounds, while senior center Keegan Severn added four points and two blocked shots.

Middleton shot 44% for the game and held West to 29% shooting. The Cardinals also had 28 points in the paint vs. 20 for the Regents.

"To have two of our guards lead us in rebounding is a big key,” Bavery said. “It tells the rest of the team that it always has to be five guys. Sometimes that involves one of our bigs holding someone else off the board while our guards clean up, so it is definitely a team effort.”

Middleton’s defense was terrific in the first half and the Cardinals built a 25-17 lead at the break. Close had 10 first half points and Boyle added seven.

Senior guard Casey Hellenbrand also relieved Boyle when he picked up two fouls and helped handle West's full court pressure. Hellenbrand also made a pair of first half free throws.

“We kept a large squad again this year, 17 players in all,” Bavery said. “It's hard to balance playing time and achieve our best possible performance on game night, and it clearly is a season long process.

“We have some amazing guys who work their tails off every night in practice, not knowing how much or even if they will see the court game by game. It's not an easy thing to do. But we have a loose rotation script we follow with input from the staff, based a lot on our opponent's style and personnel matchups, and of course how things unfold in a game.”

West closed within 40-39 midway through the second half, but Middleton answered with a 12-1 run to take a commanding 52-40 lead. The Cardinals then slammed the door on the Regents by making 18-of-22 free throws in the second half.

“Anytime you get that kind of performance from the free throw line it keeps us in a confident frame of mind,” Bavery said. “We're able to handle the ball with more confidence, take the ball to the basket harder, get post touches, and in general it puts individual players in a mindset of wanting the ball in their hands. That's a lot more important than people might think it is. Like many things in sports, it can become contagious.”

Just six days earlier, West defeated top-ranked Madison East, 96-80. So understandably, Bavery and the Cardinals were giddy with the win.

“We're starting to figure out that our strength clearly is inside-out,” Bavery said. “Getting touches in the paint through post feeds, drives in to the lane, passes to cutters, and offensive rebounds are big keys for us. Then when it comes back outside we're getting better spacing and more time to release the three-pointer. We're reacting better and hitting on offensive concepts more and more without us having to call them from the bench, which is a big step in the right direction.

“And to hold the team to 15 first half points and 48 for that game, who had just put up 96 points on the No. 1 team in the state, shows that we can defend at a higher level now than we were earlier in the year. We had spent a lot of time building a matchup zone defense that has helped us at times, but we are starting to stay in front of the ball better in 1 on 1 situations, the help is there quicker, and we've been rebounding better out of our man to man with all five players getting involved. Hopefully that continues and we can be a tough out in the final five games of the regular season and then on in to tournament play.”


Jan. 24

Middleton 62, Madison West 48

Madison West …………. 17 31 — 48

Middleton ………………. 25 37 — 62

WEST — Jones 1 1-5 3, Reed 1 2-5 4, McCray 5 3-4 14, Armwald 7 1-2 16, Thompson 1 1-2 3, Barry 1 0-0 3, Brooks 1 0-0 2, Richmond 0 1-2 1, Neugebauer 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 9-20 48.

MIDDLETON — Thomas 2 3-5 7, Hellenbrand 0 2-2 2, Close 9 8-9 28, Boyle 3 9-11 15, Severn 2 0-0 4, Deptula 1 2-2 4, Pa. Van Buren 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 24-29 62.

Three-point goals — MW 3 (McCray 1, Armwald 1, Barry 1), MID 2 (Close 2). Total fouls — MID 23, MW 23. Fouled out — Reed, McCray.



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