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MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U GAME OF THE WEEK (SWAL Boys Basketball): #4 Darlington 58, Cuba City 51
Team effort carries #4 Redbirds past rival Cuba City
Reagan Jackson
Darlington's Reagan Jackson puts up a floater over Cuba City's Will Busch during the #4-ranked Redbirds 58–51 SWAL win last Friday night.

SWAL BOYS BASKETBALL: #4 Darlington 58, Cuba City 51

By Casey Lindecrantz, Republican Journal / Tri-County Press

Team effort carries #4 Redbirds past rival Cubans

DARLINGTON — A tough task was on order for the Cuba City (9-4, 5-2) varsity boys’ basketball squad as they traveled to face off against conference rival Darlington (15-1, 7-0) in front of a packed crowd, a matchup that’d see a 58-51 tilt in favor of the Redbirds on Friday, Jan. 20.

The Cubans’ Max Lucey kicked off the back-and-forth affair that was the majority of the first half with a three-pointer in the opening seconds, followed by a Will Murray layup for Darlington to bring the game to a three-to-two lead for the Cubans.

After a Lucey trip to the free throw line where he converted both attempts, the Redbirds took a slight edge with a pair of jumpers by Carter Murray and Murray.

By the halfway point of the first half, there were a total of five lead changes off a flurry of scores from Lucey and Cody Houtakker from Cuba City while Brady Long, Cannon Lancaster, Carver Fitzsimons, and Murray kept Darlington in pace with the Cubans with a slim, 16-15, lead.

The next five minutes were more of the same back-and-forth play that defined the first nine minutes. Two free throws and a jump by Houtakker, five free throws by Lucey, a Mason Leeser free throw, and a Riley Rosenkrantz two-pointer pushed Cuba City a two point lead, 27-25, as the four-minute-mark came and went. 

It was at this point that one of the most bizarre courses of events to unfold on a basketball court happened.

Lucey’s fourth trip to the free throw line netted the Cubans their short lead as the clock passed the four-minute mark, and Long took the ball down the court for the Redbirds. As he passed the half court line, Long stopped.

He stopped, dead in his tracks, for over three-and-a-half minutes. No fouls or timeouts were called, and no passes or shots were taken. 

“When they switched to a 2-3 zone and made no attempt to guard us outside the 3 point line, I saw it as an opportunity to head into halftime with at worst a 2 point deficit and no one else picking up another foul,” said Darlington head coach Tom Uppena. “We already had 3 starters, our 6th man, and another top defensive reserve sitting with foul trouble. The game plan we had defensively was going to be tough to execute with that many guys out. Offensively, the lineup we had in at the end was pretty small, and attacking a packed in zone with the size they had in meant it would be difficult to get anything inside. I wanted them to come out and guard us to open things up a bit but they opted to not guard us, so we opted to hold for the last shot.”

With about 20 seconds on the clock, the ball started moving - the Redbirds passed the ball along the perimeter until a hole opened up. They then pushed for a jumper that was blocked by Cuban Will Busch.

When asked about his thoughts on the closing minutes of the first half, Cuba City head coach Jerry Petitgoue had this to say:

“It’s a good reason why we need the shot clock,” said Petitgoue through a laugh. “I was as surprised as anyone. We weren’t planning on playing much zone, but I wanted to see what they did against it. There was still 3:58 to play and I know I wouldn’t want to go into half down by any amount of points and thought they’d have the same thought process.”

Darlington had a more dominating agenda planned for the second half, opening it up with a 10 point run over the first five minutes, six of which came from Long, before Riley Rosenkrantz tallied Cuba City’s first points at 13:21. 

This initial run opened the Redbirds an eight-point, 35-27, lead that gave them the nudge they needed to run away and not look back. 

While the Cubans would see scoring efforts by Houtakker, Reese Rosenkrantz, Riley Rosenkrantz, and more as they tried to push their way back into the game, one player almost not involved in the second half was Lucey.

Lucey would total 18 points on the night, five points less than his season average, but only two of those points came in the final 18 minutes of the matchup.

“Carter Murray was fantastic as always on defense, guarding Lucey, with the help of Reagan, Broker, and Levi rotating on him as well,” said Uppena. “Lucey got off to a hot start, but we held him to just 2 points in the second half. Very proud of these guys for their unselfishness and buying into their roles.”

With their lead secured and a lockdown on Lucey’s output, holding the line was all Darlington needed to close out the match with the win.

Even with 31.1 seconds on the clock, and a 58-48 deficit following the Redbirds’ Broker Buschor making one-of-two free throw attempts, Cuba City still had hope.

One three-pointer by Houtakker later after 15 seconds ran off the clock, and as Darltington drove down the court, one phrase changed the entire tune of the match.

“Do not foul, do not foul,” demanded Cuba City head coach Jerry Petitgoue.

Petitgoue hadn’t even finished his second “do not foul,” and the Darlington bench, players on the court, and crowd all erupted in cheers, maintaining their one-loss season and first-place in the SWAL as they finished over the Cubans, 58-51.

“This win was a true team effort,” said Uppena. “Every single kid contributed to that win. We made just enough shots, made our free throws at the end of the game, and played very good defense. We had foul trouble throughout the game, but our bench guys came in and we didn't miss a beat.”

Next up, Darlington will travel to face off against Riverdale (2-11, 0-7) on Thursday, Jan. 26.