MADISON, Wis. – Jamari Sibley leaped on top of the scorer’s table and let out a ferocious yell, his Nicolet teammates jubilantly leaping into one another’s arms behind him as the clock read double zeroes.
They had just left no doubt as to who was the top team in the state.
No. 1 Nicolet (Glendale, Wis.) brought home the first state basketball title in school history in its typical fashion, full of electrifying dunks and frustrating defense.
BOX SCORE: Nicolet 67, Milwaukee Washington 54
The Knights jumped out ahead of No. 2 Milwaukee Washington (Wis.) early and never looked back for a 67-54 victory Saturday in the WIAA Division 2 state championship game at the Kohl Center.
“I think we really earned this for 36 minutes,” Nicolet head coach Allan Hanson said.
Nicolet (27-1) was hunted by the whole state going back to July when standout junior forward Jalen Johnson and younger brother Kobe, a sophomore guard, announced their transfer from Sun Prairie.
It was a target the Knights, who did not lose to a state team this year, embraced all the way through Saturday.
You could see it in Sibley’s face and hear it in his voice.
“We embraced the target and we knew that everybody did not want us to win,” Sibley said. “So we just embraced it and, in doing this, we put all the haters to rest.”
Said Jalen Johnson: “It was kind of a cool experience having the target on your back, but it just made us work harder.”
Jalen Johnson had a 20-point, 20-rebound double-double and Sibley scored 23 points as Nicolet kept distance between itself and Washington (22-6), which lost in the D2 title game for the second straight season.
“Just to bring the championship back to City of Glendale for the first time, it feels amazing,” Sibley said.
The game was a display of some of the premiere talent in the Milwaukee area in an era that may have more gifted players than ever.
Nicolet featured Sibley and Johnson, and Washington countered sophomore Michael Foster Jr., a top-five ranked player in the 2021 class; senior guard Deontay Long and highly-touted freshman guard Tre White.
“There is no better way to go out in my last game of high school,” Long said Friday. “I believe the game is going to live up the hype.”
The game didn’t come down to the wire, but it created plenty of electricity.
And there was no doubt about which play stole the show.
Johnson delivered the most impressive and memorable state tournament dunk since Zak Showalter’s jam off the opening tip of the 2012 D1 title game for Germantown.
Six minutes into the game, Johnson skied high as he caught a lob pass with one hand from teammate James Graham over fellow five-star recruit Michael Foster Jr. of Washington, throwing down the dunk and also drawing a foul.
“I was just trying to out-jump him, get a highlight reel over there,” Johnson said.
Similar to what Showalter’s jam did for Germantown, Nicolet took off after the dunk.
Minutes after the alley-oop, Nicolet went on a 15-6 run to take a 33-20 lead into halftime as the Knights held the Purgolders to 29 percent shooting during the period. At one point, Johnson had 15 points while Washington as a team sat with 17.
Nicolet’s length caused problems for the Purgolders much of the night and played a big role in holding Foster Jr. and White to 8 of 29 shooting from the field combined.
Long, who finished with a game-high 24 points to go along with 11 rebounds, did all he could to keep Washington above water, but a 20-9 run spurred on by Sibley’s aggressiveness offensively made it a 20-point game with 7:44 to play.
Washington got a taste of its own medicine down low. The Purgolders shot just 33 percent and made just 1 of 14 three-pointers, gave up 19 offensive rebounds and were outscored, 22-12, in second-chance points.
Jalen Johnson alone drew 10 fouls and recorded a rare 20-20 game in a state title.
“When you look at the overall length of Nicolet, it can cause some problems,” Washington coach Freddy Riley said. “They did a nice job with their help defense and their length gave us some trouble. It made it hard for us to dominate in the inside like we do in most games.”
No team in the state was more of a walking highlight reel than the Knights, but make no mistake: It was that physicality and defense that won the game for Nicolet, which shot 37 percent from the field and missed 15 of its 17 threes.
“The main thing today was not to be out-toughed and to be tough on the boards,” Sibley said.
After falling behind by 20, the Purgolders, who erased a 14-point deficit against La Crosse Central on Friday, had one frantic push left in them and got as close as eight points with 1:22 left.
But the Knights would not be denied – not all year long, and certainly not with the gold ball on the line.