RIVER FALLS, Wis. — The Wildcat boys’ basketball team looked sharp in its 62-46 victory at Hudson last Tuesday night. The first half Saturday night at home against Menomonie? Not so much.
In the end however, the Cats overcame that sloppy first half and rode the hot hand of junior Zac Johnson to a 74-51 victory over the Mustangs for their seventh straight win of the season.
Johnson scored 24 of his career-high 37 points in the second half to help River Falls overcome an eight-point first-half deficit and remain a game-and-a-half behind first-place Chippewa Falls in the BRC standings at 5-2.
“Saturday did not start how we had planned,” Wildcat coach Zac Campbell said. “And unfortunately it took us 18 minutes to have a regrouped effort into what we were trying to accomplish on the court.”
After trailing by eight late in the first half, River Falls trimmed Menomonie’s lead to three by halftime, 32-29, before using a 15-0 run to outscore the Mustangs 45-19 in the second half.
“Once we began to play with activity we were able to get them off rhythm, force contested jumpers, and play through transition,” Campbell noted. “Offensively, we were very efficient once the game moved along.”
Johnson shot 77% from inside the arc (10 of 13) and made 5-of-11 three-point attempts on his way to a career-high 37 points. The junior also pulled down a team-high nine rebounds while adding a blocked shot and steal on defense.
“Zac Johnson did a great job of moving without the basketball and taking what the defense gave him,” Campbell said. “Once he was able to get rhythm to the rim and through some strong interior play he found rhythm from the outside. On top of his offensive performance he is doing a great job of pursuing and securing rebounds for us.”
“JT Dougherty finished with 13 points, 11 in the second half, and Mike Johnson added six points and five rebounds while Michael Tiffany and Michael Schurman scored five points each in the win.”
Earlier in the week at Hudson, the Wildcats were able to flip the script from a 59-47 loss to the Raiders in the second game of the season to post a 62-46 victory.
“More than anything, this game was a testament to the work the boys have put in over the past two months,” Campbell said. “We were able to play to our identity and take away some of Hudson's actions that are really difficult to guard.”
River Falls led by eight, 32-24, at the break and widened the gap to 20 in the second half on its way to a 16-point win.
Zac Johnson led the Wildcats with 26 points, five rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals while Dougherty added 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the floor with five rebounds and three assists.
“JT Dougherty is playing at a high level right now and he was very key for us Tuesday night,” Campbell said. “Along with defending their high post shuffle action really well.”
Senior Payton Flood contributed seven points, four rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot while making his presence known on defense.
“We say this each week, but having the luxury of having a 6-5 player who moves well, is very intelligent, and has a motor that Payton Flood possesses allows us to do things defensively that not every team can do,” Campbell said. “The boys earned this moment over the past two months with their intentness and work ethic, and I'm proud to be associated with this group.”
River Falls, now 13-3 overall, hosted New Richmond in a key sectional game Tuesday night, Jan. 11, before finishing the regular season with five straight BRC games, beginning Friday, Feb. 14 at home against Rice Lake. They’ll visit Chippewa Falls for a make-up game Monday, Feb. 17.