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State boys basketball: Prairie beats Onalaska Luther 61-46, will play Oshkosh Lourdes for title

State boys basketball: Prairie beats Onalaska Luther 61-46, will play Oshkosh Lourdes for title

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LA CROSSE — The Prairie School boys basketball team prepared all week for the imposing size of Onalaska Luther’s pair of 6-foot-7 forwards.

The Hawks worked on shot fakes, head fakes, up-and-unders. Anything to get the Knights’ big men off balance.

So when Prairie was able to find lanes into the paint during Friday’s WIAA Division 4 state semifinal at the La Crosse Center, the team was confident in its ability to finish — and it showed.

Senior guard Antuan Nesbitt and junior guard Asanjai Hunter beat defenders off the dribble and scored inside, while the former dished off to sophomore forward Ashe Oglesby after multiple pick-and-rolls and used a smooth spin move into the lane for another bucket of his own.

The Hawks made the paint theirs, which helped them grab a 12-point halftime lead they wouldn’t let go of en route to a 61-46 win.

The win advances top-seeded Prairie (24-3) to the state title game in its first state appearance. The Hawks will play Oshkosh Lourdes Academy (24-5) at 6:35 p.m. Friday. Lourdes defeated Edgar 65-41 on Friday afternoon.

Luther finished at 19-2.

“We thought it would be possible, but like now that it’s right in front of us, it doesn’t seem real,” said Nesbitt, who finished with a game-high 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting. “We’re still trying to soak it all in as a team.”

Antuan Nesbitt, Prairie

Nesbitt

The Hawks had 42 points in the paint to the Knights’ 20. And 26 of those points came in the first half as Prairie built a 34-22 advantage.

But Luther held the lead a number of times early in the first half and was well within striking distance for much of the period.

After Nesbitt cleaned up his own miss midway through the first half, Knights senior guard Lyndon Byus made a 3-pointer from the right wing and senior Isaiah Loersch — one of Luther’s 6-7 forwards — followed with a bucket inside to put the Knights up 16-15 with 7 minutes, 44 seconds left in the half.

“I think Luther came out playing at an extremely high level,” Prairie coach Jason Atanasoff. “It was just size like we haven’t seen this year, with their smallest starter being 6-3.

Jason Atanasoff, Prairie

Atanasoff

“We knew we’d kind of have to weather that early storm with their size and physicality and it kind of being a home game for them.”

That’s what the Hawks did, and the dribble penetration that the Knights did well to limit early slowly opened up.

Oglesby used his long strides to blow by his defender on drive from the left wing after Loersch gave Luther the lead, and Hunter hung in the air and finished a take of his own. Senior guard KJ Williams then drove baseline and dumped the ball off to Nesbitt for an easy layup that put Prairie up 21-16 with 6:12 left in the half.

Ashe Oglesby, Prairie

Oglesby

Hunter finished with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, while Oglesby added 11 points and eight rebounds.

Asanjai Hunter, Prairie

Hunter

The Knights got back within one point with about three minutes left in the half, but Nesbitt exploited another driving lane and converted a three-point play.

“He’s even better up close,” Luther coach Brad Schaper said of Nesbitt. “He is a great basketball player, but he’s got a great surrounding cast, too. But I’ll tell you what, that guy, he can shoot it, he can drive, he’s got one of the best spin moves that we’ve seen all season long.”

That three-point play sparked an 11-0 run to close the half, a run that was also aided by Prairie’s lethal transition play.

A few possessions after Nesbitt's three-point play, Hunter grabbed a loose ball and outran a Knights defender and finished on the other end through contact. Oglesby then came away with a steal; he missed the breakaway layup, but Hunter was there to clean it up.

“It’s really a big turning point in most of our games when we can get out and get a lot of easy buckets and fast breaks, especially when we pick it up full court and buckets are coming easy,” Nesbitt said. “I think that really brings up the whole team’s energy.”

The Hawks continued to push the pace in the second half, and their guards hounded Luther on the perimeter. For the game, Prairie forced 17 turnovers and converted those into 19 points; the team also had 15 fast break points.

The Hawks’ lead grew to 15 points, then 19, then 23 with 7:21 to play when senior guard Malcolm Moses scored in transition after they broke the Knights’ press.

Prairie led by at least 13 points the rest of the way as its defense held strong.

The Hawks limited the Knights to 35% shooting from the floor and held junior Gavin Proudfoot — Luther’s leading scorer and its other 6-7 forward — to 13 points.

“We knew that if we allowed them to swing the ball around the perimeter without ball pressure that eventually that high-low was going to open up for them,” Atanasoff said. “... So I thought the ball pressure was enormous in terms of not allowing easy post entry passes.”

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