Just over three weeks after Port Washington students held a controversial photocopied image of Nicolet junior standout Jalen Johnson during a game, the two teams will meet again with their seasons on the line.
After each won a regional championship Saturday night, the Knights and Pirates are set to face off in a sectional semifinal Thursday night.
Nicolet, the top-ranked team in Division 2 and No. 1 seed in its sectional bracket, secured its spot in the sectional semifinal with a 67-55 win over No. 5 Milwaukee Madison on Saturday night.
That was the outcome almost everyone expected. Port Washington, on the other hand, caught the bottom half of its bracket by surprise.
The No. 7 seed Pirates eked out a 57-52 win over No. 10 Cedarburg, 57-52, in a regional quarterfinal Tuesday night. Then Friday night they defeated No. 2 West Bend East, which had won the teams’ previous two matchups this season, to advance to the regional final against No. 3 Plymouth.
There, Port won its third game of the week as it handed the Panthers just their fifth loss of the season with a 59-54 victory. Evan Lilly scored 19 points and Adam Baierl added 17 points in the win to move into second place on the Pirates’ all-time scoring list.
Port and Nicolet last faced each other on Feb. 13 with the Knights winning, 75-40, but the final score isn’t what the matchup was remembered for. The Pirates student section held up photocopies of an image of Johnson from social media in which the forward was wearing a charcoal skincare mask on his face. A photo of the scene went on social media and sparked outrage among many throughout the Milwaukee-area basketball community for the racist overtones such images represent.
Port Washington and the students involved both issued separate apologies to Johnson for the incident in the days following.
Things got chippy on the court between Nicolet and Port in their first contest this year, as well, an 80-36 Knights win.
With the game still close in the first half, a Pirates player was assessed a technical foul for shoving Johnson after the two tied up a loose ball.
I cut the first video too soon and started this too late, but it’s getting chippy after PW shoves Jalen Johnson. pic.twitter.com/rvbua29fF7
— Curt Hogg (@CyrtHogg) December 6, 2018
ESPN ranks Johnson as the third-best prospect in the 2020 class. He has received scholarship offers from most, if not all, of the nation’s top programs.
Johnson scored a game-high 26 points in the Knights’ win over Milwaukee Madison on Saturday night with University of Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard in attendance, per Johnson’s AAU team Phenom Universe.
Wisconsin HC Greg Gard @CoachGregGard was in the gym tonight for the Nicolet (WI) Milwaukee Madison (WI) game – Thanks for coming out tonight Coach
— Phenom University (@PhenomUniverse) March 3, 2019
With Port Washington having apologized to Johnson, as well as Johnson and his family indicating that they were ready to move past the incident, the stage could be set for positive sportsmanship from the crowd Thursday — unlike the last time.