PADDOCK LAKE — As a junior on an experienced Central boys basketball team that reached the WIAA Division-2 state semifinals last season, Joey Michelau didn’t see a lot of minutes.

Well, minutes and expectations change when you’re a senior, and the 6-foot-5 forward has answered the bell.

Especially on Saturday afternoon.

In a rare regular-season game time that was forced due to weather postponements from earlier this season, Michelau scored a career-high 17 points to go with seven rebounds and two blocks as the Falcons clinched at least a share of the Southern Lakes Conference title by pulling away from second-place Elkhorn in the second half for a 66-52 win at Central.

Michelau has provided more offense of late, averaging 11.8 points over the last five games.

“I’ve definitely gotten more confident,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, I was more just a rebounder, playing defense, but as the year went on I’ve started to be more a part of the offense.”

Michelau, who plans to play volleyball in college but hasn’t decided where, has embraced the role of being a starter on a team with aspirations of making it back to state.

“I love it,” he said. “I’m glad I’m able to help the team. Last year I obviously didn’t get that (many) minutes, but it’s just a lot of fun to help the team win.”

Zackery fills stat sheet

Central senior guard Jaeden Zackery had a typical line, scoring 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half to go with 11 rebounds and five assists, also game highs. Senior forward Dylan Anderson, the Falcons’ No. 2 scoring option, added nine points.

But, again, it was the play of Michelau and senior guard Jake Mueller — also pushed into a starting role this season, he had three points and two assists Saturday — that provided the Falcons with the versatility they needed to pull away from the Elks after leading just 18-17 following a plodding first half.

“Jake and Joey both didn’t play a whole lot last year,” Central coach James Hyllberg said.

“Both of those guys have stepped in this year. They’ve had big minutes from day one this year. They’re ready for it, and both those guys are ... confident kids.”

Especially Michelau, who played up some theatrics to Central’s student section after burying a pair of second-half 3-pointers.

“We feed off the student section,” he said. “We’ve got the best one in the SLC, and that helps us play better.”

At the moment, it would indeed be hard for the Falcons to play much better.

Central — ranked No. 5 in Division-2 in the latest state coaches poll — has ripped off 12 straight wins to improve to 18-1 overall and a spotless 12-0 in the SLC. Elkhorn — which had its own nine-game winning streak snapped — dropped to 16-3 overall and 10-2 in the conference after being swept in the season series with Central.

The Falcons have now wrapped up at least a share of their third SLC title in four years, and with two conference games left they just need one win or one Elkhorn loss to win it outright.

“It’s a credit to the guys,” Hyllberg said. “When I came here four years ago, that was a goal that these guys set. That’s something they wanted to set a standard for.”

Early battle

It wasn’t easy Saturday, especially in the first half, as the Elks played tight man-to-man defense and threw multiple defenders on Zackery when he tried to post up.

“(Elkhorn coach Josh) Skatrud always has his guys playing great defense,” Hyllberg said. “They’re always scrappy, they’re always aggressive. We needed that. We needed good playoff experience. They have a good record for a reason.”

Skatrud, who played at UW-Parkside under Luke Reigel, felt his team could’ve had a lead at the break rather than trailing by one.

“I thought in the first half, we had a chance to make a run if we just could’ve knocked down a couple shots, and we couldn’t,” said Skatrud, whose team was led by junior forward Nicholas Brown’s 13 points.

“And then we came out and had a couple sloppy possessions early in the second half where we took a couple bad shots and turned the ball over. They’re so good when they can get out and run, and then they kind of get in their flow.”

A Michelau bucket and an Anderson 3 set up by Zackery’s kick-out pass from a double-team gave Central a 23-17 lead out of halftime. The Elks cut it to 26-25 with about 13 minutes to play, but the Falcons pulled away with two separate 9-0 runs.

Central also went 27-of-31 from the free-throw line, including 16-of-20 over the final 4:53 when Elkhorn was fouling to stop the clock.

“Free throws, that’s every coach’s nightmare, because you can be hot one night, the next night you’re shooting 50 percent,” Hyllberg said. “We practice them, every team does, but guys have to step up and clear their mind and just stick to the routine every day.”

Now, both teams will find out their postseason paths in this morning’s seeding meeting. There’s certainly a chance the teams could play each other for the third time in the postseason, and the Falcons surely remember when the Elks took them to the brink in a Division-2 sectional semifinal last season and nearly ended Central’s run.

“We’re probably going to have a tougher road now to get to sectionals,” Skatrud said. “... We’ll hopefully see these guys again.”