LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Not a single section of the La Crosse Center was empty Friday night as two of the area's high school titans clashed for the first time this season.
Onalaska entered the game ranked 2nd in Division 2. Aquinas was ranked 9th in Division 3. Both have NCAA Division 1 talent.
Those players would be held silent early. Instead, the supporting cast traded blows. Michael Conway scored 11 of 16 points in the first quarter for the Blugolds. Connor Helgeson hit two big three pointers in the first half for Onalaska.
The score was even at the break.
The big names started to emerge in the second half. Iowa State recruit Matt Thomas got a bucket and a foul early in the 3rd quarter to give Onalaska a one-point lead. Thomas led the Hilltoppers with 18 points.
Bronson Koenig, set to play for Wisconsin next year, responded with a three point play of his own to even things back at 37. The Blugolds took a 40-37 lead into the fourth quarter after Nolan Ritter netted three of his 12 points.
They maintained the lead through the fourth. Reggie Rabb scored a timely transition layup off an assist from Koenig helping seal the 46-44 win for Aquinas.
"We showed that we can play at the level that we want to play. It's the first of a big stretch of games, and it's good to get that confidence going," said Conway, who finished with 13 points on the night.
"It was a hard fought battle," said Blugolds head coach Rick Schneider. "That was playoff atmosphere. You know, in the playoffs it's got to be a possession game. Possession games are tough. You don't just have to be physically tough. You have to be mentally tough. That's what it came down to. I'm just proud of how our guys reacted."
Aquinas improves to 6-2 on the year and 3-0 in the MVC. Onalaska falls to 5-2 for the season and 3-1 in conference play.
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