Gillett boys program ‘growing up’

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Tigers start 2-0 in M&O after going winless last year

Greg Bates, Times Herald Correspondent

Gillett Secondary School’s Elijah Framnes drives toward the paint during Monday’s Marinette & Oconto Conference matchup at Oneida Nation. The Tigers lost the contest 66-23. (Times Herald photo by Jacy Zollar)

The culture of the Gillett boys basketball program is starting to change.

It seems to be moving in a positive direction, the way Kelly Willson intended when he became the head coach two years ago.

After going 0-18 last season in the Marinette & Oconto Conference, the Tigers improved to 2-0 in the conference (2-1 overall) after holding on to beat St. Thomas Aquinas 54-49 in Gillett on Friday.

“This was an emotional win for us,” Willson said. “We’re coming together from last year to this year; we’re growing up. We just grew up. We’re ready to play varsity basketball.”

“It really brings us out to where we can do whatever we want in this conference,” Gillett junior point guard Logan Krause said. “It builds confidence.”

Gillett won just two nonconference games last season. After nabbing their first two conference wins for the first time since the 2015-16 season, the Tigers are riding high.

“This is the start we needed,” Willson said. “It’s more than a start. I think we’re going to have opportunities to do some nice things this season. This is a big win.”

For a few minutes late in the St. Thomas Aquinas game, it looked as though Gillett might squander its shot at staying undefeated in conference play.

The Tigers led by 10 points with just over 2 minutes left in the second half, but St. Thomas Aquinas kept chipping away. A 3-pointer and inside hoop by Christian Hornick made it 50-47 with 35 seconds remaining. Needing to foul, St. Thomas Aquinas had been whistled for just three team fouls in the half and had to get up to seven to put Gillett at the free throw line for a one-and-one.

The Cavaliers feverishly racked up their fouls and put Krause at the line with 14.9 seconds on the clock. He calmly knocked down both three throws to give Gillett a five-point lead once again. St. Thomas Aquinas scored with 2.5 seconds remaining, and Cole Long was fouled at 1.7 seconds. The Gillett junior also sank both free throws to ice the win.

“They don’t know how to close out a game as far as I’m concerned,” Willson said. “That was a true test. I believe the Lena game was a true test because the game wasn’t over until the final minutes.”

Winning close games at the wire will certainly come back to pay dividends later in the season.

“We just handled adversity and got through it,” Krause said.

The turning point in a tight game came at the start of the second half. The score was tied 22-22 at halftime when Gillett went on a 10-3 run to make it 32-25 after Anthony Carroll’s lone basket of the game.

St. Thomas Aquinas cut it deficit to 40-35, but Krause got a kick-out pass and drained a 3-pointer to put Gillett up eight with 5:51 left.

Every time St. Thomas Aquinas tried to make its move, Gillett had an answer.

“Just the whole calmness part — we trust each other and if we miss we’ve just go play defense and come back with an answer,” Krause said.

Gillett received another night of balance scoring as three players registered double digits – Krause with 19 points, and Long and Ben Frank with 13 apiece.

“I love our balance,” Willson said. “We have seven or eight guys … it wasn’t expected.”

Gillett played pretty well offensively, but Willson knows there are some areas to improve.

“For the most part we hit key shots,” Willson said. “I still think our shot selection needs to be a little bit better here and there, just getting into our offense a little bit smoother with more rhythm.”

For the majority of the game, Gillett held St. Thomas Aquinas’ 1-2 punch of Jack Farley and Tyler Stuart in check. Farley scored a game-high 23 points, but only tallied seven second-half points.

Gillett will face a few more tough games before the holiday break. The Tigers want to keep up the intensity after the early-season wins and continue to play inspired basketball. The 2-0 start in conference definitely helps morale.

“It’s a tribute to these kids, they’ve worked their butts off this summer and I feel like I’m in a good situation to get these kids and grooming them into being champions,” Willson said. “I loved the win. I praised them and had them go hug their parents after the game. But I told them they scared me to death the last two minutes. A guy can only get so much gray in his hair.”

St. Thomas Aquinas (49)

Stuart 5 1-4 11, Powers 1 0-0 2, Farley 9 4-4 23, Hornick 2 4-6 9, Faucett 2 0-0 4.

Gillett (54)

Frank 5 0-0 13, Long 4 5-8 13, Krause 7 2-2 19, Carroll 1 0-0 2, Block 1 1-2 3, Framnes 1 0-0 2, Schaefer 0 2-2 2.

St. Thomas Aquinas 22 27 — 49

Gillett 22 32 — 54