WASHBURN, Wis. - Once Washburn's high-powered offense moved into high gear, there was no stopping it.
After putting up just 22 points in the first half, the Castle Guards scored 27 in the fourth quarter to move past Ironwood - which had led most of the game - 68-59 in a battle of Indianhead Conference division leaders Tuesday night.
Each team won at home in the season series but only Tuesday's game counted in the conference standings.
"That was two good basketball teams. That was two really good basketball teams," Washburn coach Duane Gasperini said.
Ironwood coach Pete Lewinski wishes the Devils played in more games like this.
"This is an intense tournament game, playing in front of a hostile crowd," he said. "These are fun games, but unfortunately we didn't come out on top tonight. But I like playing games like this. They're a very talented team; they're a tough team. I knew it was going to be tough to beat them on their court. I was confident we could, but we didn't get the job done tonight."
The Red Devils seized control early, jumping out to an 18-9 first-quarter lead behind 10 points from inside big man Jacob DiGiorgio.
"There aren't a whole lot of left-handed post players," Gasperini said. "So we guard him off the wrong shoulder and kept letting him turn over his primary hand. He's a good player. He makes shots."
But that avenue dried up and the Devils only managed six points in the second quarter for a precarious 24-22 halftime lead. DiGiorgio had just two of those points, off an inbounds pass underneath the bucket.
"I don't think we went to him enough," Lewinski said. "I was talking to coach (Tom) Mott about that. We've got to get it in to Jake more and we got away from that. That's my fault."
The Devils took a six-point lead twice late in the third quarter, but Washburn scored the final four points of the frame to pull within 43-41 as both teams' offenses perked up.
"Our defense kept us in it," Gasperini said. "We weren't doing a whole lot offensively. Ironwood's talented with Mackey, Rowe and DiGiorgio in there. Those guys, they can play, they can score."
Ironwood led 45-43 as DiGiorgio scored off his offensive rebound. Washburn followed that with the key 15-2 run over more than three minutes of game time to take a 58-47 advantage.
"I thought our defense broke down, especially third quarter to fourth quarter," Lewinski said. "We played poor defense. They drove to the basket. No help and no second help when we did have help. They got to the basket at will. They're very talented, but it's the first time I saw our defense break down like that and I wasn't happy with that."
Ironwood's offense broke down, too, during the run as Washburn won battles for loose balls and quality possessions were at a minimum as the crowd got louder and louder.
The Devils had one more run in them, though.
Bryant Rowe hit a 3 with 2:06 left to pull Ironwood within 60-55. Adam Mackey drained a very tough 3 with little separation from his defender at the end of a long possession as Washburn continued to stymie the Ironwood offense. But that shot moved resilient Ironwood within 64-62.
"We didn't stop battling," Lewinski said. "We just didn't execute."
Washburn didn't give anymore life to the comeback attempt with some quick offense.
Brant Schick responded with an inside basket as Washburn went up two possessions again, 64-59. Mackey missed on the other end and Mac Retkdal made his only shot of the game to seal it for Washburn.
"I tell you what, they made some shots," Gasperini said. "They made some tough 3s. Mackey made one and Rowe made one. They can shoot the ball. All I told the kids is just keep battling, just keep battling."
Mackey led Ironwood with 19 points and was 7 of 10 at the free throw line. No other Red Devil shot a free throw. DiGiorgio finished with 18 and Rowe had 14.
Cody Tomlinson finished with a game-high 20 points for Washburn (14-2, 11-0). Robert Wilkins scored 18 and Sam Carrier had 10.
"The big thing with us is we kept attacking," Gasperini said. "Sam Carrier came in and drove hard to the basket. Cody Tomlinson did it all night. Robert Wilkins made a couple nice plays, strong moves."
The Devils remain in first place in the East Division, but Bessemer is now just a game back. Washburn has a commanding lead in the West Division.
"We're still in the driver's seat," Lewinski said. "We have to take care of business. This is a setback, but we've got to come out and work hard in practice and get ready for Wakefield on Friday."
Gasperini said this game will help both teams come tournament time, no matter how the conference turns out.
"In the scope of things, both of us have bigger ambitions than that," he said. "It's a game you want to be tested, but like I told Pete after the game, it was just a great game. Great game."
Ironwood - Adam Mackey 19, Bryant Rowe 14, Jacob DiGiorgio18, Jared Sobolewski 6, Matt Dary 2. FTs: 7-10. Fouls: 16. Fouled out: None. 3-pointers: Rowe 4, Mackey 2.
Washburn - Noah Swiston 1, Robert Wilkins 18, Mac Reykdal 2, Sam Carrier10, Brant Schick 4, Brett Rozier 6, Cody Tomlinson 20, Bryce Guski 7. FTs: 15-25. Fouls: 11. Fouled out: None. 3-pointers: Wilkins 1.
Ironwood 18 24 43 59
Washburn 9 22 41 68