Demons move into second place in SLC
By Mike Ramczyk
BURLINGTON – After two blowout losses over Christmas break, the Burlington boys varsity basketball team returned to .500 overall on the season Friday night thanks to 18 minutes of suffocating defense.
The Demons broke a 29-29 halftime tie with visiting Delavan-Darien thanks to ball-hawking full-court pressure and man-to-man defense, leading to a 63-45 victory in Southern Lakes Conference action.
Burlington improved to 5-5 overall and 3-1 in the SLC, one game behind front-running Westosha Central (4-0). The Comets dropped to 3-1.
Burlington coach Steve Berezowitz told his players at halftime to win the first five minutes of the second half.
The Demons ramped up their defensive intensity and stymied Delavan in the second half, forcing 22 turnovers for the game and totaling 10 steals, which rendered the Comets’ offense ineffective.
Furthermore, Burlington’s leading scorers, Luke Geiger and Nick Klug, finished with 21 and 20 points, respectively, and were able to find their rhythm in the second half.
“We defended better in the second half,” Berezowitz said. “We held them to four buckets in the first 15 minutes. In the first half, we settled for some bad shots. It was a good sign, some of the things I saw in the second half. We had to play through some injuries and our size. Our depth is a little bit off.”
The Demons were without 6-foot-7 Brock Halbach, 6-foot-2 Dale Damon and Ben Golon, a trio that provides strength and experience on the inside.
“We had a decent matchup against Delavan, and the full-court press worked out tonight. They’re good. We play a tough nonconference schedule, and we think it helps. We get pushed around in those games, and it gives us a toughness in conference and lets us know we need to raise the bar.”
Delavan led by as many as five points in the first half, but Geiger helped close the gap with a jumper and a three-pointer just before halftime.
After two scoreless minutes opened the second half, Klug took the ball the length of the court, juked a defender and pulled up for the 15-foot jumper to give Burlington the lead at 31-29.
Then, full-court pressure and aggressive half-court man-to-man defense led to steals, which allowed the Demons to attack offensively. Geiger muscled his way inside for a three-point play, Liam Safar hit a pull-up jumper from the free-throw line and another Klug layup made it 40-33 with 10 minutes left.
“Nick and Luke took some better shots in the second half,” Berezowitz said. “We settled for some quick shots in the first half. We got some better looks, and seeing the ball go in the basket helped with their confidence.”
Klug’s steal and three-point play followed, and Grant Tully got into the act with a drive and kick to Geiger, who sank a corner triple to cap off a 19-6 run and push the lead to 48-35 with 7:30 remaining.
Burlington got hustle plays throughout the lineup that it wasn’t getting in the first half.
“Our defense was different, and it carried us through,” said Safar, a senior team captain. “We had 10 steals, and it really helped us win the game.”
Delavan’s Ethan Cesarz’s left-handed layup kept Delavan within striking distance, but Drew Pesick made an uncontested layup after a defensive breakdown, Klug added a nifty, swooping left-handed flip off the glass and Harrison George provided an off-balance circus layup to breaks things wide open at 56-37 with 3:44 left.
“It feels good to be back in conference play,” Geiger said. “We didn’t start off like we hoped, but we turned it on in the second half.”
Geiger said last year he focused on outside shooting, but in the offseason he worked on attacking the rim. The 6-foot-3 shooting guard has turned into a dual threat and has become the perfect complement to Klug, who scored with ease in the second half and reached his season average of 20 points (20.9).
George, who said he tries to bring hustle plays on the court, added nine points.
“We did it with bringing energy and communication to our defense,” George said. “We made it tough on them, which made it easier for our offense to flow.”
Jayce Crull was the only Comet in double figures with 15 points.
Burlington finished 12-for-14 as a team from the free-throw line.
“It was really important that we played together as a team,” Safar said. “As a captain, it’s important to lead the team. We came together well today.”
The road won’t get any easier for the Demons, who travel to the Just-A-Game Field House in the Wisconsin Dells Saturday for a battle with Division 2’s No. 1 team, Waunakee (8-0). On Tuesday, Jan. 10, Burlington has another nonconference test at Greenfield.
The Demons are winners of two straight.
“We’ve been banged-up and had different rotations,” Berezowitz said. “It will be hard, but we’re gonna go up there and give them our best.”
Other area scores
Union Grove 64, Elkhorn 41
Racine St. Cat’s 40, Catholic Central 24
Westosha Central 71, Waterford 45
Wilmot 70, Lake Geneva Badger 66
Menomonee Falls Calvary Baptist 48, Union Grove Christian 22
Franklin 61, Kenosha Indian Trail 55
Muskego 84, Waukesha South 37
Mukwonago 71, Waukesha North 63
Jefferson 45, Whitewater 43
McFarland 71, East Troy 66
Burlington 45, Delavan-Darien 27
Union Grove 68, Elkhorn 16
Westosha Central 44, Waterford 35
Wilmot 62, Lake Geneva Badger 59
Franklin 64, Kenosha Indian Trail 34
Mukwonago 79, Waukesha North 50
Muskego 58, Waukesha South 45