WIAA boys basketball: Cards advance, Hamilton sets state record
MADISON -- Owen Hamilton scored 33 points for Prescott and set a tournament record for highest field goal percentage in a WIAA state game.
The senior made 14 of his 15 field goals, but it was another senior, Nick Simon, who made a pair of 3-pointers late to help Prescott tie Lake Mills at 61 and then extend its lead to a comfortable margin before free throws sealed a 74-67 victory in the WIAA Division 3 boys basketball state semifinals on Thursday, March 16 at the Kohl Center in Madison.
The victory advanced the Cardinals (24-3) past the L-Cats (24-3) and into the state championship game on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against Appleton Xavier (27-0). Appleton Xavier advanced after earning an 81-74 victory over Ripon (26-1).
The game revolved around how the L-Cats attempted to defend Hamilton and how the 7-foot-1 Northern Illinois recruit performed with a constant physical double team. Hamilton shot 93 percent from the field on 15 shots that were all within within five feet of the basket.
“He didn’t shoot very well against Mauston,” head coach Nick Johnson said. “His post position wasn’t very good. He was settling for 10- to 12-foot shots. Tonight he really anchored himself down low and got easy buckets. When he does that he’s unguardable. With two guys, they can’t guard him.”
Upon hearing about the record-setting performance, Hamilton focused on the one layup that he missed.
“I should have shot 100 percent. The one I missed was the easiest shot I took all day,” Hamilton said. “I think a lot of credit goes to how the guards got me the ball and where they got me the ball.”
One of the guards setting Hamilton up was Luke Murphy, who had an 11-assist performance to go with five points.
Eight of Murphy's assists went to Hamilton and three led to 3-pointers.
The first assist that led to a 3-pointer came with 13 minutes and 51 seconds left when Simon made the score 41-40. When Simon hits a 3-pointer the Cardinals notice.
“There’s a great effort (to get him the ball),” said junior point guard Petey Brookshaw, who scored 14 points. “He’s a great shooter. We think he’s one of the best shooters in the state.”
On the next three possessions Hamilton attempted to seal off his off-ball double team to give Simon a look in the corner. Instead of calling for the ball, Hamilton was pointing to Simon alone in the corner.
Simon went to the bench for Brian Tayson, a sophomore who provided some extra grittiness for the Cardinals.
“When Simon sat in the second half, the big reason was because Brian Tayson is a great weakside rebounder,” Johnson said. “We needed him to rebound and play defense and then not turn the ball over that’s what we got out of him. He played great and that’s why he played so many minutes.”
Simon returned to the game after Tayson made two free throws at the 4:29 mark to make the score 61-58 of the second half.
Thirty-one seconds later the senior connected on another 3-pointer to tie the game up.
After a Hamilton basket in their next possession, Murphy found Simon for another 3-pointer to make the score 66-61 with 2:21 to play.
“I was just thinking about keeping that same mindset,” said Simon of how he was able to reenter the game and make a major impact. “You do that so that when you go back in you won’t be behind the game. If you keep the mind set, then when you get back in there you get right back into the flow of the game.”
The Cardinals needed him to get right back into the flow of the game because Lake Mills wasn’t going to go out without a fight.
After Simon gave the Cardinals a five-point lead, Ben Dunkleberger pulled it back within two points 11 seconds later.
Prescott junior Joe Roosen, who finished with nine points, made a 3-pointer to restore the five-point lead. Eleven more seconds later Dunkleberger struck again to make the score 69-67 with 1:39 to play for a spot in the state championship game.
Brookshaw and Hamilton sank five of six free throws in the last 31 seconds to put the game on ice.
“Honestly, I thought, this is unbelievable,” Johnson said of the exchange of 3-pointers between the Cardinals and L-Cats. “Is this really how we’re opening the tournament? It was just back and forth and unbelievable.”
Simon said, “It was kind of like a dream come true. Hitting two big threes in a row in the Kohl Center? I mean, right now, I can’t stop smiling.”