Wisconsin-Superior guard Mason Ackley went high along the glass in the second half Wednesday night against St. Scholastica and hung in the air just long enough to block a shot before crashing to the floor and slamming his head.
Good thing the hardwood isn’t that hard, say, like concrete. Ackley bounced right back up, not seeing stars or extra players in his viewfinder. He admitted he will probably feel that one tomorrow, but after this one, he couldn’t feel better.
“Adrenaline,” he said with a smile. “I feel great.”
Ackley showed extreme toughness and athleticism on both ends of the court in leading the Yellowjackets to a 72-58 UMAC men’s victory before 302 at Mertz Mortorelli Gymnasium in Superior. The 6-foot-4 freshman from Superior scored a career-high 21 points, punctuating his performance with an emphatic dunk and block in the final minute. He finished with five rebounds, four blocks and three steals as he filled the stat sheet.
That is lightyears from where Ackley was earlier in the season. He has started every game for UWS (5-4 overall, 3-0 UMAC), but he only scored two points in each of his first two games and a combined 14 in his first four before finally reaching double figures with 12 points Nov. 21 at Wisconsin-River Falls.
“When you come from high school to starting for a college, you want to gain the trust of your teammates,” Ackley said. “That was a really big thing for me. I didn’t want to come in like I’m all that. I wanted to gain trust and find my role. I didn’t want to come in jacking shots because that’s disrespectful. As I grow, I become more confident, and my teammates keep believing in me.”
UWS never trailed in this one.
While Ackley did most of his damage in the second half, Yellowjackets senior forward Vid Milenkovic, of Zurich, Switzerland, had 10 points in the first 10 minutes before picking up his third foul a short time later and sitting until halftime, with UWS leading 38-30. Milenkovic finished with 13 points while UWS senior guard Allen Anderson added 12 points.
Milenkovic is a handful to deal with inside, leading the Yellowjackets in points (16), rebounds (9) and assists (1.5) per game. His return after missing last season due to a knee injury has helped free up Ackley to do his thing.
“Mason feeds off those guys and capitalizes on his opportunities,” UWS coach Greg Polkowski said. “He plays hard, he finds the ball and obviously has some talent. He’s got a work ethic and a motor, and we trust him. Like any freshman, he’s gaining confidence, he’s gaining feel. Now, looking back, it feels like it was six months ago (since the Yellowjackets’ season opener).”
Junior forward Jarod Wilken had 17 points and seven rounds to lead CSS (3-6, 2-1), while Nick Carlson added 10 points and five rebounds. But it wasn’t enough as the Saints lost to UWS for the first time since 2014. St. Scholastica, which has one senior compared to six for UWS, had a season-low four assists.
CSS coach David Staniger was asked what was lacking this year.
“Experience,” he said. “We’re really, really young, we’ve dealt with some injuries and are trying a newer style of basketball, and we’re still figuring it out. It’s a combination, and we’ve played some tough teams, no doubt about it. UWS’ physicality got to us tonight.”
Carrying only 185 pounds on his 6-4 frame, Ackley is no muscle man, but he plays tough. He said he has a 36-inch vertical — from a standstill — and athleticism you just don’t see very often at this level.
The Superior Telegram’s 2018-19 player of the year had interest from other colleges coming out of high school, including CSS, but the lifelong Superiorite said it was easy staying put.
“This is my home, man, my city. I love it here and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Ackley said. “All Superior, all my life. This was a really easy choice. Love my coach, love my teammates. It’s been great, it’s been awesome. I love it.”
Wisconsin-Superior 72, St. Scholastica 58
St. Scholastica — Jarod Wiken 8-14 0-0 17, Cade Goggleye 2-6 2-4 8, Quinn Fischer 1-4 1-2 3, Craig Burger 1-2 1-2 3, Nick Carlson 4-12, 1-1 10, Collin Anderson 0-3 2-2 2, Jack Silgen 2-8 3-4 7, Chance Larson 4-7 0-0 8, Ander Arnold 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-57-10-15 58.
Wisconsin-Superior — Colton Williams 3-6 1-2 7, Vid Milenkovic 4-7 5-8 13, Allen Anderson 4-15 2-2 12, Mason Ackley 9-14 3-5 21, Mac Reykdal 3-12 1-3 8, Joan Giner 0-1 1-2 1, Eli Vogel 0-0 1-2 1, Joe Kramer 3-3, 0-0 7, Xavie Patterson 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 27-59 14-24 72.
Halftime — UWS 38, CSS 30. 3-point goals — CSS 4-19 (Wilken 1-3, Goggleye 2-5, Burger 0-1, Carlson 1-4, Anderson 0-2, Silgen 0-3, Arnold 0-1), UWS 4-14 (Williams 0-2, Milenkovic 0-1, Anderson 2-4, Ackley 0-1, Reykdal 1-5, Kramer 1-1). Fouls — CSS 18, UWS 18. Fouled out — None. Rebounds — CSS 36 (Silgen 10), UWS 39 (Williams 9). Assists — CSS 4 (Fischer, Burger, Carlson, Anderson 1), UWS 13 (Milenkovic, Reykdal 3).
Wisconsin-Superior 75, St. Scholastica 64
Senior guard Marissa Ruiz scored a career-high 21 points as UWS held off a pesky effort by the Saints, who refused to go down without a fight in their UMAC women’s game.
UWS made 21 of 27 free throws to help seal it, led by Ruiz, who scored a career-high 20 the previous game against North Central.
Senior forward Eva Reinertsen of Duluth added 20 points, six rebounds, five assists and five blocks for the Yellowjackets (5-4 overall, 3-0 UMAC), the four-time defending UMAC regular-season champs who improved to 66-1 all-time in UMAC regular-season play. Reinertsen now has 992 points for her college career.
Morgan Anderson added 15 points and Alison Huber added 11 for CSS (2-7, 1-2), while leading scorer Kaylee Kennedy was held in check with eight points. Both teams went deep into their benches, getting some valuable experience for younger players early in the season.
“St. Scholastica battled and didn’t quit, but our team showed some resiliency, as well,” UWS coach Zach Otto-Fisher said. “For us, we just have to be able to put the throttle down. We had a 21-point lead but let them back in the game.”
Emily Carpenter added 13 points for UWS, which has a key matchup coming up Saturday at home against Bethany Lutheran. Carpenter and Ruiz both stand just over 5 feet tall.
“Defensively, I think our guards make up for their size,” Otto-Fisher said. “They fly around and make plays.”