ANTIGO, Wis. - Niagara turned back an Almond-Bancroft threat in the final two minutes and advanced to a WIAA Division 5 boys basketball sectional final with a 55-46 victory Thursday.
Niagara (19-7) and Green Bay NEW Lutheran (26-0) will square off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Menasha High School for the sectional title and berth in the state tournament at Madison.
"I'm proud of them," Niagara Coach Jim Hoogland said. "They handled pressure very well and kept their composure.
"They pressed full court the whole game."
Zach Walker scored 24 points to spearhead the Badgers. Jordan Zawada, with three critical triples, tallied 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Ethan Yonke's 20 points - seven in the first half - topped the Eagles (20-6).
"They really liked to go to him," Hoogland said. "He's a very good ball player and you could tell he plays a lot of basketball. My hat's off to him."
Niagara owned 23-14 halftime lead in the foul-packed sectional semifinal.
Niagara's biggest lead came at 4:27 in the third quarter when a Zawada triple hiked the margin to 30-16. But AB's Evan Pagel scored seven of his 13 points to close the gap to 30-23.
Niagara was held scoreless for nearly the final five minutes of the third period.
In the fourth quarter, Walker produced 14 points and helped Niagara to a 41-30 cushion.
"Walker gave us a lift and played a heck of a ball game," Hoogland said.
Yonke, who netted 13 fourth-quarter points, triggered an AB rally that brought the deficit to three in the final two minutes. The Badgers then went on an 11-5 run.
At crunch time, Walker converted three of four free throws and TJ Liebergen netted two. Zach Zychowski added a field goal.
"We hit some big free throws down the stretch," said Hoogland, whose Badgers hooped 10 of 15 in the fourth quarter.
The two teams combined for 48 fouls.
"The officials were consistent but we had difficulty adjusting," said Hoogland, who didn't expect a tightly officiated game. "We're used to a more physical style and that threw us out of sync."
Green Bay NEW Lutheran, ranked second in one state poll, bounced defending state champion Sheboygan Area Lutheran 84-62 in another sectional semifinal.
"Green Bay is the total package," said Hoogland, noting a top point guard with very good size.
Niagara 8 15 7 25 - 55
Almond-Ban. 5 9 9 23 - 46
N: Walker 25, Liebergen 8, Anderson 7, Zychowski 4, Zawada 11. FT: 18-26 F: 25, Fouled out: Anderson (4:22, 4th).
AB: Turzinski 2, Keenlance 4, Pagel 13, Bunders 7, Yonke 20, FT: 17-25. F: 23. Fouled out: Beigel.
3-pt FG: Zawada 3, Pagel. FGs: N 17-35, AB 14-32. Reb: N 29 (Zawada 11), AB 23.