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WIAA boys basketball: Prescott was comfortable trailing; Hamilton never wore down; What next?

Owen Hamilton walks to the free-throw line in the closing seconds of Prescott's 74-67 victory over Lake Mills in the WIAA D3 prep boys basketball state semifinals on Thursday, March 16 at the Kohl Center in Madison. (Herald photo by Jalen Knuteson)

MADISON -- It hasn’t happened often, but it wasn’t the first time the Cardinals trailed late this season.

Being taken to double overtime against Osceola taught a number of lessons about how to win close games. After trailing by 26 to Minnehaha Academy and coming back to get the game within five points, Prescott came out of that game with extra confidence -- perhaps surprising to some that a team could gain so much from a loss.

When Prescott trailed Lake Mills, 56-48 with 8 minutes and 10 seconds left in the game, in the WIAA Division 3 boys basketball state semifinals they found a second wind, took the lead and held off the L-Cats for a 74-67 victory at the Kohl Center in Madison.

With the win, the Cardinals advance to the championship game at 2:30 p.m. against Appleton Xavier (27-0).

Minnehaha Academy

On January 28, the Cardinals competed in the Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Border Battle. Minnehaha Academy is one of the top teams in the state of Minnesota and is headlined by freshman Jalen Suggs and junior JaVonni Bickham, who are both Division 1 recruits.

Prescott trailed by 21 points at halftime and by as many as 26 points in the second half. The Cardinals battled back and got to within five points when a Petey Brookshaw 3-pointer went halfway down before spinning out.

Eight points against

“After trailing by 26, we actually came back and were actually were close,” senior Nick Simon said. “I think that showed a lot about us.”

When the Cardinals trailed Lake Mills by eight points, Prescott didn’t flinch.

“We’ve been in that situation a lot this year,” head coach Nick Johnson said. “We made pushes back against those teams, so I told our kids at the five-minute mark that we’ve been here before. We’ve had our backs against the wall before this season. We’re a confident group and we don’t break and obviously I think that showed.”

Wear down Hamilton

After winning the opening tip, it was clear that the Lake Mills gameplan was to body up 7-foot-1 Owen Hamilton with as many shoulders and hips as they could possibly get away with.

“We wanted to make contact with him as early as possible so that we could sort of control where he posted up and not let him get to the block as easily as he wanted to,” Lake Mills coach Steve Hicklin said. Those were the two main things that we wanted to do was make him play in a crowd around a ton of bodies.”

In the first half, L-Cats could be heard from the bench yelling, “he’s tired, he’s tired,” at the Prescott senior, but the Northern Illinois recruit eventually used the Lake Mills physicality against them.

“They really pressed their bodies up against me,” Hamilton said. “They tried to make it so that I couldn’t move at all and I just used it to my advantage because if they’re gonna lean on me, it’s easy for me to spin and reseal for a lob from the top of the key.”

Instead of wearing down, Hamilton appeared to get stronger initiating contact in the post and pushing back against the L-Cats.

Appleton Xavier

The Hawks (27-0) are led by juniors Hunter Plamann and Sam Ferris. Plamann scored 21.4 points, six rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. Ferris scored 14.5 points and 8.1 assists per game.

“(Plamann) is as good of a player as we’ve seen all season,” Johnson said.

The Hawks defeated Ripon 81-74 in the state semifinals on Thursday.

Xavier will likely need to rely on zone defense or double teams to defend Hamilton as the tallest player on their team is Will Schlicht at 6-foot-5.

“It’s going to be a very difficult matchup with their big man in the middle,” Appleton Xavier coach Matt Klarner said after defeating Ripon. “He is the focal point of what they do on offense and on defense and he causes a lot of problems. That’s going to be something that we need to figure out.

“We only got to see the first half of their game (against Lake Mills), but we saw some of their other guys making plays as well.”

Appleton Xavier lost to Waupun, 59-58, in the championship in 2016 and lost the 2015 state championship to Brown Deer, 74-60.