y KELLY FENTON
The Denmark News
DENMARK – There were times in the second half, when Little Chute was chipping away at Denmark’s 21-point first-half lead, that it felt like the Vikings were just trying to hang on.
After a torrid first half, they were suddenly missing shots, while Little Chute seemed to get what it wanted, driving to the basket and scoring off back cuts and turnovers. The crowd was into it, and Denmark, already shorthanded, found itself with key player Zane Short on the bench with four fouls.
But Denmark withstood the Mustang surge and rode the 29 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and six monster jams of Patrick Suemnick to a huge 66-55 North Eastern Conference win on Tuesday night in Little Chute.
Denmark was playing again without top guard Brady Jens, who will miss 6-8 weeks with a fractured ankle, so the odds seemed long coming in against last year’s third-place team that featured almost all experienced seniors, including the league’s Player of the Year in Noah Mueller.
With Jack Satori hounding Mueller and Suemnick altering shots in the paint, Mueller had to work hard to score 20 points after missing his first six three-point attempts.
“It’s absolutely crazy,” Suemnick said after his Vikings improved to 2-1 in league play, 3-2 overall. “We just found out that Brady is going to be out for eight weeks and we were thinking, how are we going to be able to do this. We knew going in it was going to be a really tough game.”
Turns out, it wasn’t, no matter how tense it felt at times in the second half. Denmark surged out of the gates, making 16 of its first 23 shots, including five straight threes without a miss over a span that opened up a 39-18 lead with four minutes left in the first half. As hot as the Vikings were, the Mustangs (2-1) were every bit that cold, missing all nine of their three-point attempts in the first half and finishing 2 of 16 for the game and 22 of 53 overall. Given that Little Chute was so effective getting into the paint, the 55 points and the low percentage might be hard to account for, if not for the rim protection provided by Suemnick and, in the second half, by freshman Donovan Short, who altered several shots when it mattered most.
“Donovan and my job was mainly to help on Mueller because he’s their primary driver,” Suemnick explained. “Sometimes we helped off our guy and they might have got a screen and beat us, but we were mainly in the lane to help.”
Yes, indeed, his five blocks was a big contribution in the win, with Zane Short also adding a block, to go along with 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Five of Suemnick’s six dunks resulted from Short feeds, with the other slam coming off a monstrous baseline drive in the first half. And two of the dunks came when Denmark niftily broke the 1-2-2 trapping press Little Chute slapped on the Vikings and which often left Short and Suemnick with a 2-on-1 break.
“Coach had talked about their press and we practiced it, so I was hoping they’d do it,” Suemnick said. “We knew it would leave Zane and I on the break and no one was going to stop me if they lob it to me. Zane’s passes are always just perfect, right where I needed them, and I just finished them.”
Suemnick also credited Jack Satori and Denmark’s young guards, Brennen Miller, Zach Gezella and Seth Alexander with handling the press so well. Denmark finished with only 10 turnovers.
The Vikings struggled to close out halves and games last year, resulting in a slew of close losses. On Tuesday they gave up a steal and a breakaway bucket at the buzzer. Even though they still led 42-26, there was a sense of a momentum shift.
Denmark got a couple of early Suemnick dunks off Zane Short feeds early in the second half, but the Mustangs got inside time and again for easy baskets and eventually got the lead down to eight.
“We didn’t want to give up everything we worked for,” Suemnick said. “We didn’t want to leave any chance of losing this one because we worked so hard to get that 20-point lead.”
Suemnick hit a tough pull-up in the lane and Satori stole the ball from Mueller for a breakaway bucket and Denmark was able to get the lead back to 12 and hold Little Chute at bay. Mueller’s fast break bucket with 4:05 left whittled the lead back to nine, but Suemnick answered with a rebound basket, and Little Chute finally started missing in close.
Denmark might have made it easier on themselves if they’d made their earlier free throws. They were 4 of 11 in the first half but made 6 of their final 8 down the stretch.
Denmark made 6 of 16 threes, all in the first half, and finished the game 24-49 overall.
Gezella hit a pair of threes and added four free throws down the stretch for 10 points to go along with seven rebounds and two assists. Satori added six points and two steals, and Miller chipped in four points.
Denmark hosts Clintonville on Friday at 7 p.m.