With both programs entering the Iowa rankings a day prior, Dubuque Hempstead had something to prove against Dubuque Wahlert.
The Golden Eagles have owned the city rivalry since 2009, winning 17 of the past 23 meetings and three of the last four. So, behind their transition attack and leaping prowess, the Mustangs dunked all over that streak on Tuesday night.
Michael Duax scored a game-high 16 points behind four jams, Jamari Smith added 14 points and Cameron Fens had 11 with a few more slams between them, and the Class 4A No. 10-ranked Mustangs held back the 3A No. 10 Golden Eagles, 58-46, at Moody Gymnasium for their third straight win.
“We have a history with Wahlert of always going back and forth,” Duax said. “We always battle and we knew this Wahlert team plays really hard. Going into it, there was no taking these guys lightly. We came out and worked for it.”
Cam Davis added eight points for Hempstead (5-2). Seamus Crahan led a balanced effort for Wahlert (5-2) with nine points, while TJ Fowler, Nathan Donovan and Ben Freed added seven apiece.
“We were super impressed with how hard Wahlert plays,” Hempstead coach Curt Deutsch said. “When it shows up on film how hard you play, you know it’s going to be a war. They don’t beat themselves and that’s because of how hard they play. They are together as a team over there and the whole is better than the parts, so to speak. We knew it was going to be a grinder.”
After three early lead changes, Hempstead took control with an 11-0 run in the first quarter. Duax delivered a sick reverse, then Fens scored on a putback to make it 9-3 at the 4:10 mark. The 6-foot-10 junior center then added a basket plus the foul before Duax scored consecutive buckets in transition to push the lead to 16-3 with less than 2 minutes left in the frame.
Crahan drilled a trey for Wahlert to slow the run, but Smith added a vicious one-handed jam to keep the Mustangs’ advantage at 19-10 heading to the second, where the defenses took over.
“Our transition really helped us pop a few runs there and hold them off,” Deutsch said. “Our guys came out with a lot of juice and execution, and before you know it, we’re up 16-3. Whenever you can build a cushion like that, especially at your home gym, that’s big.”
Freed connected on a 3 for Wahlert to open the second, as the Eagles went on a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 19-14 before Fens scored inside. After Smith and Fens went back-to-back in the paint, Davis swished a triple to give Hempstead a 28-16 lead.
Both teams struggled from the field in the period — combining to shoot 6-for-16 — but a quick 5-1 spurt by Wahlert pulled the Eagles within 29-21 at the break.
“They were in the gaps really well and always had a guy there for help,” said Duax, who was held below his average of 22.4 points per game. “They didn’t give us any easy buckets, that’s for sure.”
Duax came out dunking in the third quarter, as the dynamic Northern Iowa recruit threw down three jams in the first 2½ minutes of the frame to push Hempstead’s lead to 35-23. Once again, the Eagles answered, chipping away with a 6-3 run to close the quarter and pull within 38-29.
“We like those high-percentage shots,” Deutsch said. “In our last game against Jefferson, we had nine dunks as a team. Our guys can finish strong around the rim. Cam Davis was fantastic and did a great job of pushing it ahead and finding those guys.”
Wahlert went on an 11-6 run over the first half of the final quarter to make things interesting. Donovan sank a 3, then Freed drove in for a deuce before a putback by Luke Heying cut the deficit to 42-38 with 5:34 remaining. When Hempstead tried to push it out, Nick Bandy responded with a nice reverse to make it 44-40 with 3:52 to play.
“Our plan was to have four guys rebound and one guy get back to try and slow them down,” said Bandy, a senior who made it tough on Duax throughout the contest and added four points. “We tried to get it going on offense, but it just never came the way we wanted it to. We need to play more fundamental basketball and keep coming together as a team.”
It was all Hempstead the rest of the way, closing the game on a 12-6 run. Smith scored on a putback, then Davis snagged a steal and dished to Fens for a dunk to extend the lead to 48-40 with 2:52 left. Smith then grabbed a steal and scored a layup before Duax capped the win with some more hang time on the rim with 1:23 to go.
“That’s our strength, to push it out and go,” Duax said. “When there was fouling and the game started slowing down, that’s when we started struggling a little bit. We just like to play fast and get out in transition. Fourth quarter is about discipline and we had that stretch of stops to close the game.”