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Short-handed Eagles can't slow down Superior's Smith

LA CROSSE -- The UW-La Crosse men's basketball team found out before Tuesday's WIAC Tournament quarterfinal game that leading scorer Tony Mane wouldn't be able to play on his injured left ankle.

UWS basketball
UW-Superior's Jake Smith (25) unloads a shot during the Yellowjackets' win over UMD earlier this season. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

LA CROSSE -- The UW-La Crosse men's basketball team found out before Tuesday's WIAC Tournament quarterfinal game that leading scorer Tony Mane wouldn't be able to play on his injured left ankle.

That was bad enough.

When it became clear early in the game that UW-Superior's main man, 6-foot-6 forward Jake Smith, was dialed in offensively, that was worse.

Smith poured in 35 points as the sixth-seeded Yellowjackets beat the third-seeded Eagles 83-77 in front of 350 at Mitchell Hall.

Mane, who tied UW-Oshkosh's D.J. Marsh for the WIAC regular-season scoring title (22.3 points per game) had to watch it all from the bench in street clothes and crutches.

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"No doubt about it, you'd like to have all your weapons,"

La Crosse coach Ken Koelbl said. "Unfortunately, we didn't. I'm really proud of the way our guys fought and played the game the way it needed to be played. Our guys didn't make any excuses."

Mane scored 32 points Saturday in a regular-season win against Stevens Point, the conference's top defense. But Mane injured his ankle late in the first half, returning in the second half to score 11 points, then sat out Monday's practice.

Superior coach Logan Flora said he prepared his team as though Mane would play.

"Obviously from their standpoint, it was a huge factor not having one of the best players in the league," Flora said. "For us, it was tough because they were missing so much and their team was going to come out and play with no fear and nothing to lose."

Despite Smith's hot hand and the Eagles' short-handedness, the game was close from start to finish. There were 24 lead changes and 16 ties between teams that split during the regular season.

La Crosse's Cory Degner tied the game 77-77 with 1 minute, 57 seconds remaining in the second half. Superior made three key defensive stops, including a steal in the lane by Dan Culy, after that and hit six of six free throws, four by Smith, to seal the win.

The Eagles (17-9) did their best to pick up for Mane, as seniors Trevor Stratton (20 points) and Andrew Haass (20 points, 12 rebounds) and sophomore Cory Degner (17 points) chipped in.

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"It was a great effort, we battled hard and gave ourselves a chance to win," Koelbl said. "We just didn't come up with the play when we needed it."

Smith, who finished fourth in the conference scoring race (19.5 ppg.), put in a season-high 35 points while hitting 13 of 21 from the field and nine of 10 from the line.

"We ran into a buzzsaw in terms of (Smith) making plays," Koelbl said. "We've had that go our way this season and unfortunately the shoe was on the other foot. We tried different defenders on him and we didn't have an answer for him."

The Eagles beat Superior 61-57 on Jan. 7 and lost 98-89 earlier this month on the road.

Koelbl hoped to follow the blueprint of the first game, but Smith made sure that didn't happen.

"We wanted to keep the score in the 60s or 70s to have a chance," Koelbl said. "Unfortunately we weren't able to and that's what did us in. We weren't able to get stops when we needed to."

Superior (15-11) plays at second-seeded Stevens Point (21-4) at 8 p.m. Thursday in the semifinals

'JACKET JOTTINGS: UWS also got 15 points from Dwight Hill and 14 more from Dustin Ritchie. ... The third-seeded Eagles (17-9) outrebounded UWS 33-27 but were outshot 53 to 45 percent. ... UWS was 7-for-11 from 3-point range.

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-- Copyright (c) 2010, La Crosse Tribune/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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