MADISON – Just one look at Devin Koep said it all for the Madison Dodgers. Blood caked on his nose but it didn’t seem to bother the Madison senior much. Like Koep, the Dodgers might have been bloodied a little but they weren’t beaten. They were smiling.
Senior forward Sean Haughey scored 29 points and Madison overcame an 18-point first-quarter deficit to defeat Butler 77-69 on Saturday.
Gavin Wallace added 14 points and Darnell St. Germaine had 11 for the Dodgers which improve to 3-6 on the season. Nick Ballistreri scored 19 points and Eric Mullin added 18 for Butler (2-6).
The Dodgers didn’t start off well at all. The Bulldogs got off to a 21-3 advantage in the opening minutes. Madison rallied to close its deficit to 23-13 at the end of the first quarter, but it wouldn’t catch Butler until the third period. The Dodgers couldn’t explain why they were so sluggish, but they didn’t panic and knew they were capable of overcoming that obstacle.
Madison’s Darnell St. Germaine drives to the hoop in the first half of Saturday’s contest. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
“We came out and just lost our fire,’’ Haughey said. “Usually we pick up on our defense and that drives our offense but our defense wasn’t there and our offense wasn’t there.’’
Although it was a noon Saturday game, the Dodgers didn’t believe the timing of the contest could be used as an excuse for a poor start.
“The bottom line is, if you want to win games and you want to keep winning, you can’t let the time affect you,’’ Koep said. “The first quarter went by, we realized what happened and we took care of the rest of it.’’
The game mirrored the way the season might go for the Dodgers. It’s been a transition year with a new coach and practically all new varsity players from last year’s 20-win season. Madison has had to make adjustments on the fly and first year varsity Coach Mike Radzieski and his players have been learning together and are starting to connect even though its been slow going early on.
“It’s been a matter of playing all 32 minutes the entire game,’’ Radzieski said. “Is it lack of experience? I’m still trying to figure that out. This was a game that we were looking forward to on our schedule after a 2-6 start. We thought this was a winnable game if we played our game and played all 32 minutes. What happened was that we came out flat. … I’m just glad that my team didn’t back down.’’
Koep, who stands 6-feet tall, had his work cut out for him. Butler’s 6-foot-5 center Billy White has several inches in height, plenty of pounds and some extremely long arms to his advantage, but Koep kept the Bulldogs senior from becoming a force on the boards.
“With some of the big guys you just have to keep them out of the paint,’’ Koep said. “I’m a football player. I just get low and push them out. When the ball goes up, just box them out. When the ball goes up I don’t worry about getting the rebound, I just worry about them not getting the rebound.’’
The ability of the Madison players to understand their own unique skill set and settle into their roles is a sign of improvement for a young team.
“Devin Koep is one of the toughest guys around,’’ Radzieski said. “In the beginning of the season he was just throwing up a lot of shots. He has matured in realizing that we needed him for his defense, his leadership and his toughness and not for his scoring.’’
Madison’s Sean Haughey scored 29 points but here he is stopped by Butler’s Billy White. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)
One thing the Dodgers had to do immediately on Saturday was find a way to slow down Ballestreri, Butler’s pesky point guard.
“I talked to Christian Scarpello who was starting at the point and told him to grab Darnell (St. Germain) and grab Tim (Azzolini) and tell them he can’t have another half like that,’’ Radzieski said. “It’s unacceptable. I think that had something to do with him getting in foul trouble. He was a tough player.’’
Ballestreri scored 10 first-quarter points and had 14 for the first half. Any time he touched the ball, he aggressively pushed to the basket.
“Christian started picking up his defense,’’ Haughey said. “He’s one of our better defenders. He picked it up so hard. He was getting steals, the kid was getting frustrated and he got in foul trouble. It was the best way to take him out of the game.’’
Butler continued to lead 34-26 at the half but Madison took control of the game with a 27-8 run in the third quarter. Some good stops on defense and Madison’s ability to hit from long range in the third quarter turned the game’s momentum completely around. The Bulldogs hit only 3 of 12 shots in the third quarter and turned the ball over 11 times.
Haughey took full advantage. The senior forward scored 15 points, including four 3-pointers in that quarter. He hit back-to-back threes around the two-minute mark to extend Madison’s lead to 47-38 as part of a 9-0 run.
Madison’s Christian Scarpello on the drive in second-quarter action of Saturday’s Dodger victory. (Photo by Mark Kitchin).
“When were pushing the ball things just open up,’’ Koep said. “It just seems that once our threes fall, that’s how we can pile up the points.’’
Butler didn’t give up and it was a scramble to the end even though Ballestreri, Glenn Reger and Jason Delattiboudere would eventually foul out. Even in the late moments of the game the Bulldogs made it interesting. A Mullin 3-pointer and a Kevin Fitzpatrick layup off a Chris Heredia steal kept the game within six points inside of a minute.
However, the Dodgers hit enough of its free throws (10-of-18 in the final two minutes) to maintain a safe advantage and time eventually ran out on the Bulldogs.