When AJ Vukovich was whistled for his fourth foul with 14:18 remaining, Edgerton senior Nick Spang made a pair of free throws to give the Crimson Tide a two-point lead.
Vukovich, the two-time reigning Rock Valley Conference player of the year and league’s leading scorer at 26 points per game, headed to the East Troy bench.
When he returned about seven minutes later, the No. 2-ranked Trojans had hardly faltered. In fact, they forged a lead.
Their ability to weather the storm without their leader was the difference Monday night, and Vukovich’s solid play in the final minutes helped East Troy to a 60-52 road win to remain unbeaten in league play.
The Trojans (10-1, 7-0 RVC) now have road wins over each of their closest competitors in the conference—Turner, Edgerton, Evansville and McFarland.
“Now they’ve got to come to our joint,” East Troy coach Darryl Rayfield said. “Now, listen, we’ve still got to get it done, but we’re not in a bad spot.
“I told the guys this was a big one, just because of where we are now, home and away.”
Edgerton built an 11-5 lead in the opening minutes, but East Troy recovered quickly and nearly the entire game was played with the teams separated by four points or less.
Vukovich, who will play baseball at Louisville, picked up three first-half fouls, but East Troy led 33-32 at the break.
Edgerton (7-3, 5-2) led 37-35 after Spang—who scored a game-high 22 points—made his free throws following Vukovich’s fourth foul less than four minutes into the second half.
But the Crimson Tide scored just three points in the seven minutes he was out and trailed 42-40 with 7:15 remaining.
“I thought East Troy did a nice job in that they didn’t hold the ball, but they pulled it out once AJ got his fourth and used a little more clock,” Edgerton coach Daryl Fox said. “And then they actually took the lead on us with him on the bench, and that’s not good on our part.”
Rayfield credited senior forward Jackson Grimm with helping the Trojans get through those seven minutes. Grimm was not looked to offensively, but he did well defensively as East Troy held Spang without a point when Vukovich was on the bench.
“He played with us all summer and knows the kids and knows his role,” Rayfield said of Grimm. “He’s a bigger body but he’s shorter, and it seemed to change things. That was good stuff.”
East Troy sophomore Chase Cummings, who battled his way back from appendicitis during the early portion of the season, matched Vukovich with 20 points. That included four 3-pointers as well as a three-point play with 4:37 left that gave the Trojans the lead for good at 47-44.
After Spang answered with a bucket for Edgerton, Vukovich used a put-back and then a three-point play of his own for a 52-46 lead with 2:35 to play.
The Trojans were 15 of 20 from the free-throw line but missed a couple late, allowing Edgerton to get back within two, 54-52, with 1:02 left.
It was 55-52 when the Tide got the ball back with 42 seconds left, but a step-back 3-point attempt did not fall, and East Troy put the game away at the line.
“This was a good test for us, because this is a regional final type of game,” Fox said. “A shot or two, a free throw here or there, or maybe a turnover or a good possession (and the result is different).
“Our defense was good enough to win the game today, because they’re averaging over 80 points a game. We just needed a couple better looks.”
EAST TROY 60, EDGERTON 52
East Troy (60)—Nixon 4-1-9, Rosin 0-5-5, Lottig 1-0-3, Vukovich 7-5-20, Cummings 6-4-20, Terpstra 1-0-3. Totals: 19-15-60.
Edgerton (52)—Jenny 2-0-4, Hanson 2-2-7, Rusch 3-1-9, Gullickson 2-1-5, Spang 9-4-22, Fox 1-0-2, Coombs 1-0-3. Totals: 20-8-52.
East Troy 33 27—60
3-point goals—East Troy 7 (Cummings 4, Lottig, Vukovich, Terpstra), Edgerton 4 (Rusch 2, Hanson, Coombs). Free throws missed—East Troy 5, Edgerton 4. Total fouls—East Troy 15, Edgerton 16.