By Pat Harty
Your Prep Sports
CEDAR RAPIDS – The much-anticipated showdown between top-ranked West High and Muscatine had more hype than drama.
West High’s defense led by 6-foot-5 senior Connor McCaffery made sure of that on Tuesday.
McCaffery and his cohorts put the clamps down on defense and cruised to an 83-44 victory in a Class 4A sub-state final at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Muscatine star Joe Wieskamp had his moments in Tuesday’s game while scoring 28 points. But the 6-6 future Hawkeye had to work hard for almost every shot he took with McCaffery blanketing him.
“I wanted to limit his touches,” Connor McCaffery said of Wieskamp, who entered the game with a 30.5 per-game scoring average. “Especially in the first half. In the second half, we switched a little bit on him. I wasn’t on him the whole time and he kind of wore down.
“But especially at the start of the game, I didn’t want him to start off hot. When he starts off hot, than he starts making tough shots and you’re there, but it doesn’t matter, it’s going in.”
Wieskamp only made 4-of-11 field-goal attempts in the first half, which ended with West leading 36-17. The game never was in doubt in the second half as West expanded its lead to 35 points, which caused the continuous clock rule to go into effect.
“I don’t like the rule for what it’s worth,” West coach Steve Bergman said of the continuous clock, which goes into effect after a team leads by 35 points in the second half. “You just want the game over with and you want to punch the ticket. That’s what it amounts to.”
The seniors for West have now punched the ticket to the state tournament four times in a row. West won the Class 4A state title in 2014 when the current seniors were freshmen.
But West fell short in each of the past two seasons, including finishing runner-up to West Des Moines Valley last season.
“We’ve had a lot of good players, so you’ve just got to take care of business,” Bergman said. “And that’s what Connor and I talked about after the game on Friday. Take care of business and we’ll be fine.
“We played pretty well and we shot it great. You’re not going to shoot it like that every night. But we’re a much better shooting team than we were a year ago.”
Senior Devontae Lane led three players in double figures for West with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field. Connor McCaffery scored 19 points, while senior Izaya Ono-Fullard chipped in with 10.
West made 29-of-51 field-goal attempts as a team, including 12 3-point baskets.
In addition to leading West with four 3-point baskets, the 6-2 Lane also consistently beat his defender off the dribble and made open shots in the lane. He has been working on that part of his game throughout the season.
“I stay a lot after practice trying to work on my game because at the start of the year I was (struggling) from three and had a bad percentage from the field,” Lane said. “So every day after practice I just stay after and work on that move.”
Lane entered Tuesday’s game as West’s third leading scorer behind Connor McCaffery and Connor’s younger brother Patrick McCaffery, a 6-8 sophomore forward.
Those three combined to outscore Muscatine 49-44 in Tuesday's game.
“I thought the key guy of the three was Lane,” said Muscatine coach Gary Belger. “He played unbelievable with his outside shot tonight. We were worried about his defense and stealing the ball and trying to keep them from the throwing the ball near him. But he killed us with the outside shot.”
Bergman was pleased with his team’s defensive effort on Wieskamp, at least for the most part.
“I was for a while,” Bergman said. “I think we finally got tired of guarding him a little bit. But I thought we did a pretty good job. We messed up on a couple out-of-bounds plays and he scored on those. But we made him work.”
West’s defensive pressure led to numerous turnovers and poor shots by the Muskies. It also led to numerous points in transition for the Trojans.
“It was definitely a huge part of our attack because defense leads to offense,” Patrick McCaffery said. “We’re really good at running the fastbreak. So if we defend well we get a lot of rebounds and steals and we get to run the break really well.”
West sent a message with Tuesday’s lopsided victory because it isn't often that a team gets a continuous clock in a game in which a spot in the state tournament is on the line.
“I think it means we shot the ball really well and played really good defense,” Connor McCaffery said. “Most of it is defense. We shot well. We scored well. But we’re usually a good scoring team. So keeping them at such a low score was our goal.”
Connor McCaffery and Lane are the only players for West who have extensive playing experience in the state tournament. Connor is more focused on being a leader this time because of that experience.
“I’m a senior, I have to be a leader,” Connor said. “I’ve got to help the younger guys. When we do something wrong, I’m going to take responsibility, whereas in the past I had leaders who helped me along.
“I’ve always had people above me that had experience. But now that’s me. So I’ve got to help them. It’s the first time pretty much for everybody except Devontae and I that they’re going to get quality minutes in the tournament.”
Wieskamp looked exhausted after the game. It seems everywhere he turned there was a defender in his face, especially Connor McCaffery.
“It’s very tough,” Wieskamp said. “Connor is obviously a good on-ball defender. And when he’s getting help from the backside from multiple guys, it’s tough to get to the paint.”
Belger praised West for having quality depth.
“They have a lot of complementary players with them,” Belger said. “We could very well use their seventh and eighth man. They’d do a lot for us.”
The good news for Belger is that he has Wieskamp on the team for another season. Wieskamp is ranked among the top juniors nationally.
“I haven’t really thought about next season yet,” Wieskamp said. “I’ve just been focusing on this game, obviously. But I’m just going to get back to work next week and focus on AAU and then focus on the high school season after that.”
Wieskamp and the two McCaffery brothers will eventually be teammates at Iowa.
But they were on opposite sides on Tuesday, which served as motivation for Connor McCaffery.
“He was really motivated to guard Joe really well and he did a really good job,” Patrick McCaffery said of his older brother.
Connor McCaffery said his father, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, gave him some simple advice before Tuesday’s game.
“He said be a leader,” Connor McCaffery said. “That’s it. You can’t be afraid of the moment. You have to go after it.”
Muscatine 9 8 12 15 – 44
West High 14 22 19 28 – 83
Muscatine (44) – Joe Wieskamp 12-22 2-2 28, Jake Mussehl 1-3 0-0 2, Derrick Woepking 0-2 0-0 0, Jackson Foulk 0-1 0-0 0, Garrett Mueller 2-8 0-0 4, Alex Bautista 0-2 0-0 0, Lex Hahn 0-2 2-2 2, Bruce Howard 0-3 2-2 2, Drew Greenhaw 2-3 0-0 4, Jason Gray 1-1 0-1 2, Josh Hutton 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-48 6-7 44.
West High (83) – Connor McCaffery 5-10 7-9 19, Devontae Lane 8-11 1-1 21, Patrick McCaffery 4-10 0-0 9, Nate Disterhoft 3-5 0-0 7, Izaya Ono-Fullard 3-6 2-2 10, Hakeem Odunsi 3-4 0-0 6, Evan Flitz 0-0 0-0 0, Seybian Sims 2-4 3-4 8, Josh Van Roekel 0-0 0-0 0, Mulhim Nasr 0-0 0-0, Hirsche Henstrom 1-1 0-0 3, Jake Anderson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-51 13-16 83.
3-point field goals – Muscatine 2 (Wieskamp 2); West High 12 (Lane 4, Connor McCaffery 2, Ono-Fullard 2, Patrick McCaffery, Disterhoft, Sims, Henstrom). Fouls – Muscatine 13, West 10.