Thomas leads MHS past Verona

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Dennis Semrau/For the Times-Tribune
Chadron Thomas and Middleton's boys basketball team defeated Verona on Dec. 1./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

VERONA — Chandon Thomas relishes his role on Middleton’s boys’ basketball team.

The 6-foot senior guard is a key reserve for the Cardinals, tasked with the responsibility of providing a spark off the bench any way he can.

“We told him we want him to create 10 points for everybody else by setting great player screens, by getting offensive rebounds and finding open cutters, by taking charges, all those things,” Middleton coach Kevin Bavery said.

“But we’ve always known that if he takes his time and is in the flow of things, we know he’s capable of scoring.”

You can add scoring to Thomas’ to-do list after he recorded a game-high and career-best 18 points, including 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute, as Middleton held on for a thrilling 57-51 victory over host Verona in a Big Eight Conference game last Saturday night.

Coming on the heels of a disappointing 62-43 loss in a Big Eight opener at Madison East last Thursday, Bavery was pleased the Cardinals put that setback behind them.

“This was an important win,” Bavery said. “East was a four-point game, and we let it get away from us. We only had a day between games to prepare, and we got our work in.”

Senior guard Sam Close was just 2 of 12 from the field in the loss to East, but he drained a 3-pointer from the right wing on Middleton’s first possession to ignite an opening 7-0 run.

“We’re still trying to run base offense and didn’t have a lot of specials to go to,” Bavery said. “We put one in at shootaround today that kind of gave Sam an open look to start the game. He struggled shooting at East so I thought that was really important for him.”

Close, who scored five of his eight points in the first half, agreed.

“It just felt good,” he said. “The last game, I couldn’t hit anything. So to hit the first one gave me a bunch of confidence throughout the game.”

Thomas sank a 3-pointer to help ignite a 20-3 surge that gave Middleton a 27-8 lead with just more than 5 minutes remaining in the first half.

“Chandon came up big today,” said starting senior guard Jack Boyle, who scored all six of his points in the second half. “He’s a ball of energy, making plays for us.”

Thomas helped extend the Cardinals’ lead to 33-11 with a putback basket off an offensive rebound with 2:48 remaining in the first half.

He finished with 10 points in the first half as Middleton (2-1 overall, 1-1 Big Eight) opened a 22-point lead before heading into halftime with a 38-18 margin.

Middleton shot a blistering 55.6% from the field (15 of 27), including 60% beyond the arc (3 of 5), in the opening 18 minutes.  

But Verona (1-2, 1-1) showed its resiliency after the break, which was what Bavery expected.

“They run a ton of ball screens and they ball screen and throw back where it’s hard to get to with your help,” Bavery said. “We knew we were going to have some personnel issues with how we were going to try to guard it.

“We came up with, even though there’s going to be some mismatches, let’s just switch (on the screens) so at least they can’t drive it into the lane and they can’t throw it back. Now we’re going to live with the mismatch.”

While that worked in the first half, the Wildcats made several adjustments that pushed the Cardinals’ defense to the limit over the final 18 minutes.

“We kind of bought ourselves a half on how we were going to handle their ball screens,” Bavery said. “In the second half, we started getting there late, we started changing up how we were guarding it. We didn’t react as well. They started getting the ball in the lane. That was the one thing we said we didn’t want to do.”

With senior guard Tyler Slawek able to drive and also create open looks from beyond the arc, the Wildcats opened the second half on a 13-5 run to pull within 43-31.

“We said we can’t let him start creating for other people,” Bavery said of Slawek. “But our closeouts were late. He got to the rim a couple of times.”

Bavery added that it was only a matter of time before the struggles on defense spread to the Cardinals’ offense

“Ironically, the 38 points in the first half came easy at times because we were really patient,” he said. “In the second half, when they started coming back, now we hurried on the offense thinking we’ve got to score right away.”

It was also a different Verona team that hit the floor running to start the second half and didn’t stop until it simply ran out of time.

“The thing I love most about my guys was how they battled in the second half,” Verona coach Jevin Budde said. “We knew Middleton was a good offensive rebounding team, and we gave them way too many in the first half. There were too many 50-50 balls that they got.

“But our guys really responded on the defensive end, and that’s why we able to claw back in the game.”

The Wildcats trimmed their deficit to 50-48 with 3:38 left to play when senior guard Adam Bekx made the first of two free throws.

But Thomas and Close combined to sink 6 of 8 free throws in the final minute to keep the Wildcats at bay.

“We all have a certain role,” said Thomas, who also finished with a career-best nine rebounds. “My role is coming off the bench and bringing energy to the team.

“You won’t see me score like that very often. Guys like Sam (Close) and Jake (Klubertanz) can shoot the ball and on any night get double figures. It’s about playing your role.”

Senior forward Ryan Van Handel led Verona with 17 points, including 13 in the second half, while Slawek added 10 of his 14 points after halftime.

But it wasn’t enough to make up for the Wildcats’ first half struggles.

“I think Jevin challenged those guys at halftime,” Bavery said. “The first half was about as good a half as I’ve seen in a long, long time. We played so well together and moved the ball.”

Close said the Cardinals will be able to build off their ability to finish off Verona.

“It was a great test to have them come all the way back,” he said, “and still find a way to win.”


Saturday, Dec. 1

Middleton….38 19 — 57

Verona…......18 33 — 51


MIDDLETON — Henry Patterson 2 0-0 4, Cole Deptula 1 0-0 2, Chandon Thomas 6 3-4 18, Casey Hellenbrand 0 1-2 1, Sam Close 2 3-4 8, Keegan Severn 1 0-0 2, Ben Scher 0 1-2 1, Jack Boyle 2 2-4 6, Jake Klubertanz 3 1-1 7, Parker Van Buren 3 2-5 8. Totals 20 13-22 57.

VERONA — Haakon Anderson 2 2-3 7, Reagan Klawitter 2 0-0 6, Adam Bekx 2 2-4 7, Tyler Slawek 7 0-0 14, Ryan Van Handel 6 4-4 17. Totals 19 8-11 51.

3-point goals — M 4 (Thomas 3, Close), V 5 (Anderson 1, Klawitter 2, Bekx 1, Van Handel 1). Total fouls — M 17, V 22. Fouled out – Bekx (V).


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