Banks, Evansville top Brodhead to open tournament play
EVANSVILLE--It’s been a roller coaster of a season for Brennen Banks and the Evansville Blue Devils.
The freshman guard and Rock Valley North Conference’s third-leading scorer has endured injury and illness, but the Blue Devils are now hopeful for a healthy WIAA tournament run.
They kicked it off Tuesday by beating visiting Brodhead 58-35 in a Division 3 regional quarterfinal game.
Evansville finished just 11-11 overall in the regular season, but it has now won eight of its last 12 games.
“We started playing as a team,” Blue Devils coach Steve Krupke said. “We had some injuries before Christmas that disrupted our depth, and Christmas break couldn’t have come at a better time. We got healthy and went on a nice run.”
It wasn’t pretty on Tuesday night, but the Blue Devils’ play was good enough.
They led just 10-6 after the first quarter but pulled away to lead by 13 at halftime. Evansville held Brodhead to just five baskets on 21 shot attempts in the first half.
“We were a little sloppy,” Krupke said. “But we did what we had to do.”
Senior Matt Sperry scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half, and sophomore post Kyle Rutkowski had eight of his 12 in the second, where the Blue Devils never led by less than 10 points.
Brodhead sophomore Ned Slocum, the RVC South’s leading scorer this season, had 15 points, and Griffin Day added 11 for the Cardinals.
Banks led all scorers with 16 points. After turning heads with multiple 20-point games to open the season, a broken shooting hand curtailed his offensive stats.
Banks regained his scoring prowess during the Blue Devils’ late run, but he was hit with an illness last week.
“He could handle the ball OK and play good defense, but he couldn’t score (when he was hurt),” Krupke said. “He played with a splint on his shooting hand.
“The seniors, it’s their team. And I know how it can be sometimes—the freshmen have to earn their stripes. But they welcomed him with open arms, and he’s fit right in. The seniors want to win.”
The Blue Devils advanced to earn a rematch with Lakeside Lutheran in a regional quarterfinal on Friday night. Lakeside won, 84-79, on Nov. 25.
“We need to iron some things out,” Krupke said, “if we want to have a shot.”