RACINE — After getting torched by senior sensation Marquise Milton for an average of 34.5 points per game in a pair of regular-season losses, the Indian Trail boys basketball team knew that it had to take a different tact on Friday against Southeast Conference rival Racine Horlick in a WIAA Division-1 regional semifinal at Horlick Fieldhouse.
“Obviously, he’s an incredible player,” said Hawks coach Al Anderson, whose squad entered the contest as the No. 9 seed by virtue of its 84-76 home loss to the eighth-seeded Rebels on Feb. 15, “so we came out in a box and one on him. We had to face-guard him and box the rest with a 2-2 zone.”
For the majority of the 38 spirited minutes, the Hawks achieved their objective of slowing the sharpshooter who entered the contest as the state’s seventh-leading scorer at 27 points per game, according to wissports.com
But in the end, it was the same unfortunate result as senior forward Stephon Chapman stepped up with an unexpected 17 points to tie Milton for game-high scoring honors in a deflating 60-51 Horlick victory that ended IT’s season at 13-9.
“The first two times, Marquise basically killed us on his all-around game so our plan was to stop him and hopefully no one else was hitting in this game,” said IT marksman Arlind Zamaj, who finished with 11 points in his final game in purple and black, eight of them in the opening half as the Hawks forged a 26-25 lead.
“They definitely had some other weapons, but sometimes people just have big games. You can’t really stop it. (Chapman) was unconscious this game.”
After watching the lanky Milton explode for 69 points in the first two meetings and erupt for 32 points in the second half of the game on Feb. 15, it was a gamble that the Hawks frankly had to take.
As such, it was a halfcourt grinder of the game for the first 35 minutes as opposed to the flashy, open-floor showcases that the first two games were. The Hawks were right where they wanted to be at the four-minute mark, down 47-44 after a pair of Stargell free throws. Then the shots that had been dropping earlier in the game simply stopping falling.
“We had some real good looks by a lot of our guys that they normally knock down that were just rattling out,” said Anderson, whose squad finished 13-9 in his fifth season at the helm. “When you’re down four, they held the ball out (and) then we have to go ‘man’ and Milton’s a tough cover.”
Coming out of the eminently effective gadget defense had dire consequences for IT, as Darrien Long and Jaydin McNeal threw down monstrous dunks to write the final chapter on the Hawks’ season.
“I’ve been at Indian Trail for four years and from the moment I walked in here, I’ve just been working harder and harder,” said IT senior T’J Fullilove, who scored 11 points in his final game before fouling out with 2:13 remaining.
“I feel that anyone would tell you that from my freshman year to my senior year, you would never guess that I was the same player.”