Memorial rings up case for Big Eight
MADISON Was the Big Eight that good in boys basketball this season?
A lot of people would say so.
And for sure, Madison Memorial made a statement on behalf of the Big Eight here Thursday in dismantling Fox Valley Association entrant Neenah in a WIAA Division 1 state quarterfinal game that was over way before it was over.
The 58-41 final score pretty well tells how decisive it was. The 33-13 spread with a minute left in the first half does it even better.
Keep in mind, too, Memorial is back in the state tournament for the seventh straight year almost by the grace of God. The defending state champions had to withstand two in-and-out, game-winning three-point shots by Middleton in the last three seconds Saturday night to escape with a 56-54 win in the sectional finals.
That, of course, was against a Big Eight rival—and typical of what the Spartans went through against the conference’s upper-tier teams this season in securing a share of a seventh straight league title.
After three straight pre-state tournament tests against Big Eight opponents, maybe it was a breath of fresh air for Memorial to finally step out of the league on the Kohl Center court. Whatever the case, the Spartans brought out their best.
And it wasn’t just about Vander Blue, the highly touted Marquette recruit, and his two ultra-talented teammates—Tre Creamer and Junior Lomomba. It was about total distribution.
“It was the best game we’ve played all year, as far as distributing the ball,” Memorial coach Steve Collins said. “We made passes we haven’t made all year.”
And it even showed in the expanded box score, which revealed four double-figure scorers for the Spartans, complemented by 17 assists, leading to 36 points in the paint.
“It’s a pretty thing when it all comes together,” Collins said, “and it was pretty special today.”
As far as Collins was concerned, so was the 33-16 halftime score, as well as Memorial’s 48-28 lead after three quarters.
But still in the back of the coach’s mind may have been the memories of some bad state tournament finishes not so long ago against another Fox Valley Association school. Oshkosh West stung the Spartans, 52-40, in the 2006 championship game, and then rose from the dead to provide a major scare in the 2008 semifinals.
Memorial led that game 47-24 after three quarters. Oshkosh then roared back with a staggering 34-14 advantage in the final period, leaving the Spartans barely hanging on for a 61-58 victory.
“My brother called me from New York after we won that one,” Collins recalled, “and he said, ‘You were lucky to win.’”
No kidding! Well, there was no kidding around or leaving anything to luck this time.
“That’s why, in the state tournament, I’m reluctant to put the subs in too soon,” Collins said. “These teams are here for a reason, and (at this point), they’re the best teams in the state.”
But at least at this moment, there was nobody better than Memorial.
“Our guys did a really good job of putting them away in the second half,” Collins said.
So, unlike those many pulsating times in the coach Ron Einerson days that many people remember so well, this was no tear-jerking finish for Neenah.
But the job is far from finished for Memorial in its bid to retain its title. Next up is another Fox Valley Association opponent—a formidable Appleton East team.
“As a compliment, they remind me of the Oshkosh West teams we played,” Collins said the Patriots, who tip off with Memorial at 6:35 tonight. “They have a great point guard, they’ve got nice bigs, and I’m not sure we’re going to be able to trap them the way we did today.”
But at the end of the day, or maybe the end of the tournament, Collins may have to compliment the tough Big Eight for bringing out his team’s mettle in these ultimate tests.