After falling behind early, Portage spent most of the night fighting back.
Monroe built a 10-point lead midway through the second quarter and led by five with under a minute to go.
But Portage didn’t go away, battling back to get an open look at a game-tying 3-pointer that didn’t fall in the closing seconds as the Cheesemakers escaped with a 41-38 victory over the Warriors on Tuesday night at Portage High School.
After Monroe senior Brian Schneider scored from the right block with 1:35 to play to give the Cheesemakers (4-0) a 39-34 lead, Portage junior Stian Anderson — who had a team-high 11 points — hit his third 3 of the game, this one from the right wing, to make it 39-37 with 46 seconds remaining.
Monroe’s Trent Wyssbrod and Portage’s Sam Harkins both made one of two free throws to keep the margin at two points before Wyssbrod upped Monroe’s lead to three points by again making one of two from the charity stripe. He made the first free throw to make it 41-38 with 15.3 seconds to go.
But the Warriors (1-3) rebounded Wyssbrod’s second missed free throw and called timeout, allowing them to draw up a play that gave senior Ian Taylor an open look at a 3 from the right corner in the closing seconds. Taylor’s shot didn’t go in, and Monroe pulled down the rebound to clinch the victory.
Portage entered the fourth quarter trailing by just two at 27-25, but the Cheesemakers hit their first three shots of the quarter to go up 33-25.
Portage began closing the gap when Anderson hit his second 3 of the game, but four straight missed free throws by the Warriors — who made just two of nine from the line on the night — made it difficult for the Warriors to pull even down the stretch.
“We’ve got to work on our free throws, that’s for sure,” Portage head coach Ryan Hansen said. “We missed four or five down the stretch that could have helped us out.”
Portage’s only lead of the night came on Daniel Beck’s jumper that made it 2-0.
Monroe used a 10-1 run that spanned the first two quarters to take control, and it led 19-9 midway through the second quarter thanks to consecutive 3s from senior Alex Barenklau, who finished with a game-high 14 points.
Portage was able to close the first half on a 7-0 run to pull within three points at the break. The spurt included buckets from Anderson and Matt Bare, and a 3 from Taylor at the top of the key.
Hansen gave credit to senior guard Mitchell Gray, who came off the bench and provided a spark late in the first half. The Warriors also did a better job of hitting the boards against the bigger Cheesemakers, who used second-chance opportunities to build their early lead.
“Mitchell Gray, I thought he came in in the second quarter and we made our run, because he just made hustle plays,” Hansen said. “And rebounding is a lot of effort. It’s positioning on the floor and effort, and we fixed that.”
Portage finally pulled even with Monroe late in the third, getting a three-point play from Taylor, a putback bucket from Bare and then a reverse layup from Harkins that tied it at 25 with a minute to go in the quarter.
But the Cheesemakers responded with six straight points from Barenklau and then a jumper from Jake Hirsbrunner for an 8-0 run that spanned over the final two quarters and gave them a 33-25 lead. That run finally ended on Anderson’s second 3 of the game — but it proved to be the difference in the end.
“A lot of credit goes to Monroe, but we still had a chance there at the end,” Hansen said. “That’s all we can ask the kids to do.”
Portage will look to end its three-game losing streak when it opens Northern Badger Conference play on Saturday night at home against a Baraboo team that fell to 1-4 on Tuesday night with a 55-21 loss to Waunakee.
MONROE 41, PORTAGE 38
Monroe ................. 10 9 8 14 — 41
Portage ................. 5 11 9 13 — 38
MONROE — Barenklau 14, Hirsbrunner 4, Wyssbrod 2, Schneider 4, Erickson 2, Helmeid 1, Kind 6, Latimer 8. Totals 18 3-12 41.
PORTAGE — Taylor 6, Anderson 11, Bare 10, Harkins 5, Beck 6. Totals 16 2-9 38.
3-point goals — M 2 (Barenklau 2), P 4 (Taylor 1, Anderson 3). Total fouls — M 14, P 17.