RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- Last week started out on a low note for the River Falls boys’ basketball team. But it ended with a bang.
The Wildcats entered the week ranked No. 4 in the state in the Division 2 coaches poll but were handed just their second loss of the season with a 70-65 setback at Hudson Monday, Jan. 11. But by Saturday night the Cats were celebrating a new career scoring leader, the 100th career win for head coach Zac Campbell, and a win at the prestigious Midwest Players Classic in La Crosse.
Senior Zac Johnson scored 21 points to become River Falls’ all-time leading scorer in the Wildcats’ 75-59 victory over Chippewa Falls Friday night, Jan. 15, in River Falls. Johnson’s final basket of the night gave him 1,367 career points, breaking the old mark of 1,366 set by Luke Murphy (2011-14).
The victory also gave Campbell his 100th career coaching win and was the 13th straight victory at the Cat’s Den for River Falls dating back to Dec. 20, 2019.
Campbell said he couldn’t think of a better person to move into the No. 1 spot on River Falls’ all-time scoring list than Johnson.
“I haven't coached a player who has earned the right to hold this honor more than Zac,” Campbell said. “He's the definition of a gym rat who loves to be in the gym. Aside from the work he's put into working on his game, the time he has put into becoming stronger and a better athlete overall from his freshman year to now takes a lot of dedication.”
The Wildcats trailed the Cardinals most of the first half and were down six, 23-17, with five minutes remaining in the half before a layup by JT Dougherty, a drive by Johnson and a Johnson 3-pointer put them up by one, 24-23.
After a Cardinal free throw tied the score, Johnson put the Cats up for good, 26-25. River Falls closed the half with a short jumper by Liam Dougherty, a steal and drive by Johnson, and a put-back by Michael Schurman to open up a 32-25 lead at the break.
River Falls pulled away in the second half and led by 22 at one point before the Cardinals made it a 16-point game at the end.
Johnson, Liam Dougherty and JT Dougherty combined for 60 of the Wildcats’ 75 points with Johnson and Liam Dougherty scoring 21 points each and JT Dougherty 18. JT Dougherty and Schurman pulled down eight rebounds apiece and Liam Dougherty grabbed seven while Johnson had six. The Wildcats outrebounded the Cardinals 41-32.
As for his 100th career win, Campbell was quick to spread the credit around.
“I appreciate the acknowledgement, but numbers have never factored into my decision to coach,” he said. “Any coach can accomplish this number if they have the committed families that I've been fortunate to work with while in River Falls. In addition to having great families, our program would not be where it's at without the great coaches who have helped me along the way. Zach Turpin, Chris Harmon, and Mark Vrieze have been instrumental in helping our varsity boys grow over the years. Having coaches like Josh Bazey and Derrick Hackel work behind the scenes often goes unnoticed from the outside, but we couldn't operate a program that we do without them.
“The work of alumni such as Macguire Flood, Vinnie Simone, and Lance Westberg during my time in River Falls has really made the entire experience rewarding to see them give back to others what they once reaped the benefits of being a part of,” he added. “From our youth association to our athletic department, I've been very blessed to be surrounded by committed people who want what's best for River Falls Boys Basketball.”
Johnson and Campbell had little time to celebrate their accomplishments as the Cats boarded a bus Saturday afternoon for the Midwest Players Classic in La Crosse. Johnson added to his career total with a 32 point night and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Liam Dougherty scored 12 points in a 67-54 victory over Monona Grove.
“This is a great simulation of our tournament series that requires us to play two quality opponents on back-to-back nights,” Campbell said. “Monona is very good off the bounce and broke us down a lot into the paint.”
The Wildcats responded to the Monona Grove zone by hitting eight 3-pointers, including five by Johnson.
The two wins to end the week came after the Wildcats fell victim to a pair of big Hudson runs in a 75-60 loss Monday night in Hudson. The Raiders made runs of 11-0 and 17-0 and led by as many as 21 before River Falls’ comeback attempt came up short.
“We got out to a great start with some bounce in our step and attacked well,” Campbell said. “As the game wore on we really lost energy, which impacted our movement offensively and our rotations defensively.”
Johnson scored 32 points in the loss but no other Wildcat hit double figures in scoring. Johnson also had six rebounds and seven assists while JT Dougherty had seven points and six rebounds.
Hudson hit 10 3-pointers in the game, including four by Luke Healy on his way to a 28-point night.
“Hudson is so good when you provide them space to work, and then when you sink too much they have a lot of players who can knock down shots,” Campbell said. “They make it very difficult to defend and stay engaged for 36 minutes.”
The Wildcats, now 9-2 overall, 4-2 in the Big Rivers Conference, will host Eau Claire Memorial Friday, Jan. 22, and visit Rice Lake Saturday, Jan. 23.