The nine seniors who departed from the WIAA D2 sectional finalist squad of a year ago took a lot of talent and leadership away from the Whitefish Bay boys basketball team.
But the young Blue Dukes are finding a way, such as what they displayed Tuesday, Dec. 20, when they went into defending North Shore champion Germantown, took a solid lead at the half and never let the Warhawks back into the game in earning a 78-71 North Shore Conference victory.
"We found a way to hold onto a lead," said second-year Blue Duke coach Chris Millner. "We've had second-half leads in each of our last two games, but we weren't able to hold them. We have four sophomores and a freshman in the lineup. We try to push and get the easy look, but what we're learning is how to pull back, run some offense and score some points that way. The kids did a real good job of that tonight."
The win improved the Blue Dukes improved to 2-2 in North Shore play with the win and 2-3 overall.
The Blue Dukes followed that up with a 69-65 nonconference win over Milwaukee King on Dec. 21 to even up their overall record at 3-3.
Meanwhile, the seven-time NSC champion Warhawks are adjusting to a new reality as they fell to 0-3 in North Shore play and 1-5 overall under first-year coach Steve Martin, who is trying to break his team of some bad habits and get the players to remember how Germantown got to the be state power it has been for the past decade.
"It begins with some good fundamental defense, good fundamental strong basketball," he said. "We get it rolling on the defensive side, it will carry over to the offensive side. We have to trust the program that was built here (by former coach Steve Showalter and many others). The program is still here, and it still works. We just need to get back to basics and use the program that has been so successful for us."
But Martin knows he will have to be patient. The only lead for Germantown on Tuesday night was at 2-0, as the Blue Dukes gradually built an advantage that was helped by hitting eight of their first 12 shots.The Blue Dukes eventually went cold for a time, but the closest Germantown could get was 23-19 with 6:49 left in the first half.
A short time later, an offensive foul wiped out a bucket that would have cut the deficit to two. The Warhawks got it to four again at 33-29, but then Blue Duke sophomore guard Demetrius Johnson hit two shots in the final 24 seconds to make it 41-33 at the break.
Demetrius Johnson hit a 3-pointer right out of the gate to start the second half, and then senior forward Xavier Johnson hit a shot of his own. Germantown tried to keep up, but a short time later, Demetrius Johnson hit another jumper from the wing and then finished a 3-point play. Xavier Johnson tossed in another hoop, and suddenly it was 53-37 with 13:38 left. Following that moment. Germantown could not get within nine until the final minute.
The final score was as close as the game would eventually get.
"We need to develop trust in our teammates and the system," Martin said. "We have to adopt a one-play mentality. We can't get too high with one great play, and we can't get too discouraged when a few bad plays go against us. We need to keep going and trying to get better everyday."
Senior center Ethan Meyer, playing one of his first extended series of minutes since the beginning of the season, scored 20 points to lead Germantown, while Bryce Thomas had 15 and Jaylen Carter and Luke Taylor 9 apiece.
Meanwhile Bay, which hit seven 3-pointers, was led by Demetrius Johnson with 22 points, while Xavier Johnson had 18, junior guard Cade Garcia 11 and freshman guard Harry Grams 9.
In the King game, Bay fell behind 34-28 at the break but outscored the Generals, 41-31, in the second half to earn the victory. Demetrius Johnson scored 29 points to lead the way including 13 of 14 from the foul line, while Garcia had 13 and Xavier Johnson 12.
"A lot of this is trial by fire," Millner said. "We don't have a ton of game experience out there, so we're learning as we go, and it's a great group of kids to learn with. We'll try to continue growing, and hopefully by the end of the season we'll have a lot of our mistakes cleaned up."