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Marquette runs past Arrowhead for Division 1 championship

03/17/2024, 10:15am CDT
By Dick Knapinski

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Milwaukee Marquette has a storied basketball history, but had never made the final step to a WIAA state championship. Until Saturday, that is, with the Hilltoppers’ convincing 84-62 win over Arrowhead in the Division 1 championship game at the Kohl Center.

In only its third WIAA state tourney appearance over the past two decades, Marquette used the same formula that has worked for it all season: move fast and spread the ball around. The tempo pushed an Arrowhead squad that had played four overtimes in Friday’s semifinal win over Neenah, and the Hilltoppers’ 52-percent shooting added to the pressure for the Warhawks.

“We knew the night before (the Warhawks) had a long game, so we emphasized our desire to play fast and get the ball moving,” Marquette coach Casey Kowalewski said. “Our guys shared the ball extremely well; 23 assists to six turnovers tonight.”

The teams were tied 7-7 four minutes into the game before Marquette’s 9-1 run gave it the lead for good. After going into halftime up 41-32, it then added a three-pointer from T.J. Adams to open the second half to maintain a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

The Hilltoppers (26-4) also rode the scoring of its standout senior Nolan Minessale, who finished an outstanding state tourney with a 29-point performance in the championship to go with his 24 points in Friday’s semifinal win. Minessale, who is headed for the University of St. Thomas next fall, was 11-of-16 from the field Saturday and finished the two tournament games 21-of-28.

In addition, his dunk with six minutes remaining stopped Arrowhead’s last major rally after the Warhawks had closed to within 64-54.

“I saw the opportunity with a wide-open lane and I was just like, ‘I’m going up,’” said Minessale, who added five assists and a team-high six rebounds.

Arrowhead (27-3) was also hurt by two early fouls on Jace Gilbert, which limited its inside game that had been so effective against Neenah on Friday. Although Gilbert finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, he played just 22 minutes because of the foul trouble.

Warhawks coach Craig Haase understood that Friday’s four overtimes may have added strain on his team, but believed that there was enough in the tank for one more push in a championship game.

“Honestly, our kids were in such great spirits as we went through the walkthough today,” he said. “I’m sure there’s fatigue factor – the scientists could tell you how that all relates – but you hope that the adrenalin from the night before carries you through. They got off to a good start but again, we just didn’t defend as well as we would have liked early on.”

The Warhawks were bolstered by the return of senior Bennett Basich, who left Friday’s game with an ugly mouth injury sustained in the overtime periods. Basich played the entire game Saturday after receiving a couple of stitches in his mouth, leading Arrowhead with 17 points.

“It was no different; I laced my shoes up the same way, got my jersey on the same way, I went out to play the same way. It just didn’t roll in our favor,” said Basich, who added that Friday’s injury was fine and not a factor for him.

Sam Leoni added 14 points for Arrowhead, while Marquette also got 14 points from Jeremiah Johnson and 10 from Cade Kohnen as it finished its season on a 12-game winning streak. It also marked a double for the Hilltoppers, as they became one of the few schools to pull off the uncommon feat of winning both a state football championship and boys basketball title in the same year.

“People from the football team were texting us, saying it’s your people’s turn so go get one,” Johnson said. “The support we got from them was very impactful.”

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