Ryan’s layup puts ‘Golds on top

The expression, “play hard until the clock reads triple-zero” rang true in Zorn Arena on Wednesday night.

After two rough games on the road against WIAC conference opponents UW-Stout and UW-La Crosse, the UW-Eau Claire men’s basketball team bounced back in heroic fashion against UW-River Falls, notching its first conference victory of the season, 63-62.

River Falls pulled ahead by 11 points with seven minutes left in the first half, but the Blugolds adjusted their play and cut the lead down to 28-25 heading into halftime.

“In the first half, we tried to play too much of a power game with (River Falls) instead of running our offense,” coach Terry Gibbons said. “In the last five minutes, we started running the offense and got easy looks at the basket.”

After taking a 34-31 lead five minutes into the second half, junior center Steve Hoelzel was sidelined with a knee injury.

Junior Zack Ryan said Hoelzel is a big part of the offense and he’s essential to the team’s future success. The injury, Ryan said, forced the team to adjust its game plan.

“After Steve got injured, we had to go smaller,” Ryan said. “We had less post opportunities and took a lot of perimeter shots. (Juniors Jared Bardon and Dan Beyer) were knocking down shots.”

The Blugolds managed to extend the lead to eight points, but the Falcons battled back and tied the game with under a minute left to play.

With seven seconds left to go in the game and the score favoring River Falls 62-61 after a Falcons three point play, Gibbons wanted to push the ball up the court and pressure the defense.

“I planned on the shooter making the free throw and we were going to beat them down the floor,” Gibbons said. “We got the ball to the right guy and scored right away.”

The strategy paid off as Ryan took a feed pass and laid the game-winner in the hoop with two seconds left to play.

Ryan, who had 12 points and three assists, said he was a little surprised.

“I was expecting coach to get the ball up court and call a timeout,” he said. “(When the ball was in-bounded), I took off and got wide open.”

Gibbons said Ryan provided a needed spark to the offense and overall the team’s experience paid off.

“Everyone really stepped up and did what they had to do,” he said. “(Junior Dan Ottney) came off the bench and Steve (Hoelzel) was finding his rhythm until he
got hurt.”

Ryan said it felt good to get the win, and the coaching staff provided some big help in the preparation.

“Our coaches did a good job of scouting (River Falls),” he said. “They’re a good team and we wanted to push the ball up the court more.”

Bardon and Beyer led the team with 16 points each and despite his injury, Hoelzel had nine rebounds and four assists.

Overall, Gibbons said he was happy with the way the team played but there is still room for improvement.

“I thought our kids fought tooth and nail down to executing the last play and the last shot,” he said, “but we still turn the ball over way too much.”

Heading into the holidays, Ryan said the win should help the team capitalize off of its success.

“We’re in the same spot we were in last year and hopefully we can carry that momentum through Christmas,” he said.

Going into a string of non-conference games, Gibbons said the win against River Falls will carry over.

“(The win) propels us. We know we have to play hard and take care of the basketball,” he said. “Hopefully we can get wins
out of these next few non-conference games.”