EagleHerald/Billy Betts Connor Nelson of UWGB-Marinette banks in a contested lay-up against UW-Stevens Point/Wausau during the first half of their game on Saturday.
EagleHerald/Billy Betts Connor Nelson of UWGB-Marinette banks in a contested lay-up against UW-Stevens Point/Wausau during the first half of their game on Saturday.

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MARINETTE — Bryan Wickstrom has come to embrace his UWGB-Marinette basketball team’s slow starts this season, as long as they finish strong.

On Saturday, the Buccaneers did that, overcoming a 10-point deficit late in the first half to defeat UW-Stevens Point/Wausau 88-79.

“We preach in practice and before games about not coming out flat,” Wickstrom said. “It seems like this group needs a little bit of a disadvantage before they start playing at a high level.”

Shots didn’t fall early for the Bucs but they did for the Huskies, who they built a 40-30 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the first half. But, the Bucs made a late-half run by scoring at the free throw line and behind the 3-point line. 

A Cam Willemsen 3-pointer got the Bucs to within four in the and after Kempka was fouled and made two more free throws, Connor Heise leveraged his way in for a put-back basket inside to tie the game at 40 with 30 seconds remaining in the half. The run was capped by a pair of free throws from Connor Nelson that tied the game at 42-42.

“That was a big stretch, because the game was starting to get away from us,” Wickstrom said. “We gained the momentum going into halftime, which was key.”

Four quick points by the Huskies made it a 46-42 game, but the Buccaneers answered with a jumper by Kempka and two free throws from Nelson.

UW-Stevens Point/Wausau held a 51-48 lead two minutes later, but Nelson and Kempka quickly erased it after Nelson sank a tough layup and Kempka scored on a fast break basket off of a steal to give the Bucs their first lead of the game at 52-51.

After a Huskies timeout, Nelson took over, scoring on back-to-back layups off stolen passes to extend the UWGB-Marinette lead to five.

As the Huskies continued to struggle, the Bucs took advantage and extended their lead to 11 on two slick baskets inside by Kempka and a transition lay-up by Heise.

Foul trouble began to creep in for the Buccaneers as Heise drew his fourth foul with 13 minutes remaining. Nelson, Voss and Willemsen also recorded their fourth fouls within the next seven minutes.

UWGB-Marinette avoided the obstacles though. 

The Huskies cut the deficit to six at 69-63 with just over nine minutes remaining, but Preston Lauscher answered with a deep jumper and two straight put-back layups to extend the Bucs’ lead to 75-63.

A 3-pointer off the glass by Nelson put the Bucs up 13 with just over six minutes remaining and despite getting to the free throw line on a regular basis, the Huskies were only able to get to within six points the remainder of the night.

Like he did all game, Nelson clutched up from the free throw line late, putting the game away and securing the sixth straight victory for the Buccaneers.

“Connor (Heise), Levi (Kempka) and myself talked to the team at halftime about picking things up defensively and just staying patient on offense,” Nelson said. “We’ve been a second-half team all season and were again today. I give them credit, they hit a ton of shots, but our guys really stepped up when we needed to.”

Nelson led all scorers with 25 points for the Buccaneers. Kempka, who carried the Bucs with 14 first-half points, finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Lauscher added 13 points, Willemsen had 12 with nine boards and Heise chipped in 10 points.

Rising Sun-Doud paced the Huskies with 22 points, sinking four 3-pointers. Fred Nunez added 20 and Tarrin St. Germaine netted 15.

“They had some guys hit shots against us, which made it difficult all night,” Wickstrom said. “For us to battle with four guys having four fouls and to still play well down the stretch, it’s really great to see how good our depth is. This group is continuing to grow. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m pleased with our progress.”

UWGB-Marinette improved to 7-2 overall, 6-0 in the Wisconsin Collegiate Conference.