WILMOT — One 3-pointer after another, the Wilmot boys basketball team found the rim or the backboard, anything but the net, and time seemed to be dwindling away on the Panthers’ season with a deluge of missed shots.
Apparently, 22 in a row was enough.
That’s how many 3s fourth-seeded Wilmot missed before it made one in a WIAA Division-2 regional semifinal Friday night against fifth-seeded Jefferson at Wilmot’s Reigel Court.
When one finally went down, it’s like whatever dam was holding back the Panthers finally burst.
Sophomore guard London Glass splashed a 3-pointer off an inbound pass from the left wing to finally snap the drought, and suddenly Wilmot couldn’t miss, as the Panthers went 4-of-7 from deep after starting 0-for-22 and outscored the Eagles 31-10 in the game’s final 10 minutes, 39 seconds for a come-from-behind 63-56 victory.
“Honestly, it was like a balloon had popped,” Wilmot senior forward Kevin Brenner said. “The pressure was off. I think everybody started hitting after that. It just opened it up.”
Said junior guard Zack Watson, who scored 17 of his team-high 18 points in the second half: “For me, it was a sign of relief. I kind of rolled my eyes. I was like, ‘Thank the Lord.’ And we just kept hitting from there.”
What about the first 22?
“That will never happen again, I don’t think, with the team we have,” Watson said.
The Panthers improved to 18-5 with the comeback and also earned a milestone for coach Jake Erbentraut, who collected his 100th victory with the program.
“I don’t like putting a lot on me, because I never played a second,” Erbentraut said. “It’s a credit to these players, credit to the school for giving me the opportunity to be here.
“I’m so fortunate, I really am. I give a ton of credit to all the coaches and the administration that have helped out the whole way.”
The win also sets up another grudge match with county rival and No. 1 seed Central, the fifth-ranked team in Division-2 in the latest WisSports.net state coaches poll.
The Falcons (22-1) cruised to a 66-30 win over eighth-seeded Waterford on Friday night and will host the Panthers in a regional final at 7 tonight. The winner advances to the sectional semifinals against either No. 2 seed East Troy or No. 3 seed Elkhorn on Thursday.
And even though Central beat Wilmot twice by comfortable margins this season, all the Panthers could ask for was another shot.
“I had talked about it before,” Brenner said. “I just wanted another shot, just for the atmosphere of the game. I grew up playing with those guys, and it’s just a fun time when we play against them.”
It didn’t seem to be in the cards, though, for a good while Friday.
After Jefferson, which finished its season 14-9, took a 14-point lead at 46-32 on a spin move in the post by 6-foot-5 junior forward James Monogue (game-high 19 points), it was hard to imagine the Panthers coming back.
Senior forward Noah Coleman, the only Wilmot player generating much offense to that point, was called for his fourth foul with 9:35 remaining, and Jefferson’s long defense was harassing Wilmot by mixing man-to-man and a 1-3-1 zone.
“You’ve got to make shots in the playoffs,” Erbentraut said. “I was looking at time, and looking at it, and I just didn’t know. But our guys kept their composure, and I give those guys a ton of credit.”
Finally, the shots started falling. That had the dual impact of allowing Wilmot to dial up its full-court press, and the Eagles turned the ball over 18 times in the second half.
The Panthers ripped off a 14-2 run, capped by a 3 from sophomore guard Kevin Sandman from the right wing off a Watson pass that had the Wilmot student section going crazy, to get within 48-46.
Jefferson made three free throws for a 51-46 lead, but the Panthers came right back with a 9-0 run and found themselves ahead 55-51 with 3:17 left after senior guard Mason Moravectz’s slashing bucket.
The Eagles cut the lead to one but never regained it, as Watson buried a long two from the left corner and combined with Sandman to go 6-of-6 from the free-throw line down the stretch to seal it.
“The first half, I wasn’t really being that aggressive, wasn’t really looking for mine,” Watson said of his big second half. “I just kind of let the game come to me in the second half, and my teammates made plays.”
Like they have all season, the Panthers had a number of contributors. Brenner finished with 10 points and eight rebounds, Coleman scored 10, Sandman notched nine points and three assists, Moravectz chipped in nine points and senior forward Zach Lamberson had 10 boards and four assists, both team highs.
“It’s been our whole season,” Erbentraut said. “It’s not a negative on them, but we really don’t have that standout type of a guy. … But these guys feed off each other so well, and it could be any given game.”