There was no lack in confidence. There was no lack of clutch shooting. There was no lack of anything for the Muskego basketball team.
Unfortunately, the same could be said for Madison East on March 9.
Both teams came out firing, and both teams hit some big shots throughout the night. Unfortunately for the Warriors, East hit just a few more in beating Muskego, 76-68, in a WIAA Division 1 sectional semifinal at Janesville Craig.
“We caught a tough team on a tough night,” Muskego coach Andy Capes said of the Purgolders. “They outplayed us, and they deserved it.”
Muskego made nine 3-point baskets, sinking five in the first half as both teams got off to hot starts. But East got up, 9-6, and never trailed from that point on. East led at halftime, 40-33, and extended its lead to as much as 14 in the second half.
But Muskego kept answering, getting as close as 4 in the final minute before East closed on 4 of 6 free-throw shooting in the final 40 seconds.
“I thought we were taking open looks, and they were taking really tough looks,” Capes said. “(East) just kept making them. They didn’t miss much tonight.
“I thought we played pretty good defense most of the night. They just made some big shots.”
A lot of those came from East junior Keyshawn Justice, who scored 29 points and sank three first-half 3-pointers. He also surpassed 1,000 career points in the process.
“I thought we did a better job defensively in the second half and down the stretch, but he made some tough shots,” Capes said. “He’s a great player – and a big part of why they got this far. They’re a really good team.”
Muskego was a pretty good team all season, as well. The Warriors finished 20-5 and finished second in the Classic 8 Conference.
“I thought we had a fantastic season,” Capes said. “We did a lot of things people didn’t think we were good enough to do. We had five new starters and still had 20 wins.
“You hate to see it end. I’m so proud of the guys.”
Muskego rattled off three straight thrillers against Madison-area teams in 2016 and reached the state-championship game, including a buzzer beater in the sectional final. This year, in regional final against fifth-seeded Beloit Memorial, a Big Eight colleague of the Madison programs, Muskego held on despite surrendering a last-second shot that forced overtime.
Sophomore guard Stuart Vint finished with 21 points to lead Muskego, the fourth-seeded team in the sectional. East was the No. 8 seed and upset top-seeded Sun Prairie in a regional final.
Sophomore A.J. Makinen added 13 points for the Warriors, senior Ryan Wikel had 12 and senior Luke Horozewski had 11.
“I thought we executed, and we had a lot of good shots,” Capes said. “We missed a couple bunnies late, and who knows what would’ve happened if they went for us.
“It’s tough, because (East) kept answering. It’s a credit to them as a team. We kept going at them, and for whatever reason found a way to answer.”