By Jay Spanbauer
Ugly sweaters filled the Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh as the Wisconsin Herd kicked off a weekend of basketball with the first of back-to-back games.
Among those in attendance for the Friday night matchup between the Herd and the Sioux Falls Skyforce was Pearce Van Asten. Pearce, 9, and his family were given tickets to the game following a Make-A-Wish event Pearce had attended earlier in the week with members of the Herd.
Pearce was born with a rare heart defect and has gone through multiple surgeries.
At the Make-A-Wish event on December 11, Pearce was able to pick out Christmas presents at Scheels Sports with members of the Herd, although Pearce spent the entire event with Herd guard, JeQuan Lewis.
“Pearce – that’s my guy,” say Lewis, a first-year G-League guard from VCU. “We had a really good time, and walked around for about two hours and picked up some stuff. It was just a lot of fun. He had us all over the place.”
Lewis says Pearce spent a lot of his time picking out gifts for his family, including his two brothers, Teague and Miles.
A new member of the Oshkosh community, Lewis, 22, enjoys having the opportunity to give back to local kids.
“Honestly, it’s a blessing on my end being able to give back to the kids,” says Lewis. “I can be a big brother or role model for them. I never really had that growing up, so I take pride in giving back to as many kids as possible.”
Pierce’s father Chris was in attendance during the Make-A-Wish event and was at his side for Friday night’s game. Chris couldn’t help smiling while giving compliment after compliment about Lewis and the rest of the Herd.
Chris said his son was happy to get hooked up with JeQuan Lewis.
“He’s a bit on the shorter side, so he was happy to get hooked up with one of the guards,” joked Chris.
Coincidentally, Pearce – a big sports fan – and Chris have been following VCU for a while. JeQuan Lewis is Pearce’s favorite player.
While Pearce’s mom, Jennifer, wasn’t at the Make-A-Wish event, she says she heard all about it when he got home that night.
“When he came home, he couldn’t stop talking about how much fun he had,” says Jennifer. “He went on about all the things he saw and how nice the basketball players were.”
Pearce and his family were among 2,328 fans in attendance for Friday’s game.
JeQuan Lewis and the rest of the Herd welcomed Joel Bolomboy back to the Herd and into the starting lineup on Friday after spending time earlier in the week with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Sioux Falls came out to a hot start in the first quarter, taking an eight-point lead and hitting 7 of 16 three-point attempts. Cameron Oliver was able to keep the Herd close, hitting his first two three-point shots.
The second and third quarter saw the Skyforce hold their lead behind 40.5 percent shooting on a volume of three-point shots. The fourth quarter began with the Herd down ten but they rallied back thanks to the play of Cameron Oliver and Jequan Lewis.
Back-to-back three-pointers by James Young and Xavier Munford with under five minutes in the fourth quarter gave the Herd their first lead since early in the third.
An altercation with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter led to the Skyforce’s Ike Nwamu and the Herd’s Xavier Munford being ejected. Following the ejection, Sioux Falls and Wisconsin traded missed baskets and offensive fouls.
Ultimately, Sioux Falls was unable to muster anything in the fourth quarter being held to only 11 points, and the Herd were able to escape the evening with a 117 to 108 victory.
The win came in front of a crowd that, by the end of the night, were all on their feet.
“The fans were great tonight,” says Lewis. “They don’t realize how much they helped us. When I’m tired out there and I’m gassed looking for that second breath and I hear them screaming and getting rowdy, it gives me a little adrenaline rush. I’m not able to think about being tired and I push past the fatigue.”
JeQuan Lewis finished with 20 points on 6 of 8 shooting (2 of 3 on three-pointers).
After the game, he and Pearce hung out in the locker room where Lewis took photos and signed shirts for the whole Van Asten family.
Also for the Herd, Xavier Munford and Cameron Oliver both scored over 20, and Joel Bolomboy added 12 points and 14 rebounds.
The Herd return to the Menominee Nation Arena floor Saturday night to take on the Erie BayHawks at 7:00 p.m.
Banner image by Jay Spanbauer. J. Bolomboy photo by Adam Jungwirth. Photo of Jequan Lewis at Scheels courtesy of the Wisconsin Herd.
Correction: “The fourth quarter began with the Herd down ten but they rallied back thanks to the play of Cameron Alexander” was changed to “Cameron Oliver”.