The first game on the court he will one day call home couldn’t have been more of a see-saw affair than it became Thursday afternoon at the Kohl Center.
But, after nine ties and 24 lead changes, University of Wisconsin recruit Sam Dekker made the 25th the one he’ll always remember and the one that Sheboygan Lutheran never relinquished.
The Crusaders senior hit his only 3-pointer of the game on a step-back move with 1 minute, 12 seconds remaining and his team held off Chippewa Falls McDonell 63-61 in a WIAA Division 5 boys basketball state semifinal thriller.
A Ryan Baier layup gave the Macks (25-3) their last lead 57-55 with 2:06 to play. Dekker made the second of two free throws to cut it to one, but Baier turned it over on a pass to the post on the other end and Dekker — after missing his first four 3-pointers — made his fifth one the game-winner, faking a drive to the hoop on Macks senior Kyle Cody and stepping back to hit the big one.
“I knew that one was in,” said Dekker, a 6-foot-8 forward who finished with 35 points, 16 rebounds, seven blocks and four assists. “I took a rhythm dribble ahead and he thought I was going to go to the cup. He took a step back, I just pulled it (back) and, luckily, it went down.”
Indeed, Cody — a 6-7 Kentucky baseball recruit — and his Macks teammates gave the Crusaders (24-4) all they could handle.
The Macks pushed the pace throughout, attacking Sheboygan Lutheran’s guards on dribble-drive penetration and coming away with easy layups. The up-tempo strategy was also intended to force Dekker to play all 94 feet of the Kohl Center floor.
“Part of our game plan was to get him up and down the floor and make him play as much as we could (and) as hard as we could,” McDonell coach Archie Sherbinow said. “We knew at the end of a game, in a close game, he could take it over, and we felt that if we got into his legs that might help take away some of those shots at the end. But, lo and behold, end of the game he nailed a tough shot from the outside.”
To Dekker’s credit, he shot the ball better in the second half than he did over the first 16 minutes.
After hitting just six of his first 15 shots, Dekker was more relentless in taking it to the basket over the final two quarters. He was 9-for-13 shooting in the second half, but only took two shots from beyond the arc — hitting the one that will extend his high school career by another game Saturday in the Division 4 final at 12:45 p.m. against Racine Lutheran.
“We wanted to pound the ball inside and we did,” Crusaders coach Todd Dekker said of his son. “He gets going on the dribble there and that’s a shot that he practices a lot. When he took it, I was very confident in him taking it and that time it went down”.
Said Sam Dekker: “That wasn’t my best game at all. I got to the cup pretty easy, but I didn’t shoot it very well; I didn’t think I got my teammates involved (in the offense) as well and I didn’t play as good a defense as I could have.
“It wasn’t my best game, but I’ll take it — we got a win.”
For more details on this and other WIAA state boys basketball tournament games, check out our live blog (mobile users http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php?option=com_mobile&task=viewaltcast&altcast_code=827f5d16e1" target="_blank">click here).