Beloit Turner and Elkhorn advanced to the WIAA boys basketball sectional finals Thursday night.
The Trojans and Elks will never get a chance to play there.
About three hours after the two area programs got within one victory of qualifying for the state tournament, their seasons ended when the WIAA canceled the rest of the boys and girls tournaments “in response to the evolving concerns over the spread of COVID-19.”
“The WIAA regrets the lost opportunity for teams and players that have worked to achieve their goals and the communities that have supported them throughout the year,” the WIAA said in a press release.
Earlier in the day, it was announced all of the major college conference basketball tournaments scheduled for this week had been canceled. Later, the NCAA canceled all of its national championships, including men’s basketball.
By 11:15 p.m. Thursday, COVID-19 choked out what seemed to be the last living breath of March Madness, and the Trojans and Elks were forced to settle for knowing they saved arguably their best games for their final game of the season.
“We’re just hoping it (the tournament) stays alive,” said Turner senior Jordan Majeed, who scored 21 points in Thursday night’s 68-52 Division 3 sectional semifinal victory over Edgerton at Janesville Craig. “It’s definitely in the back of our mind, but we’re just hoping for the best.”
Majeed and his teammates were not naive. They saw the NBA shut down Wednesday night and then pretty much every professional sport follow suit Thursday before their sectional game tipped off.
They knew all of this might be coming but forged on and played well, even if only their closest friends and family were there to see it.
The WIAA imposed policies earlier Thursday that limited each program still alive in their tournaments—girls and boys—to just 88 tickets, plus players, coaches and other essential personnel.
That meant a Craig gym that was about one-quarter full. Just more than a year after the Trojans and Tide played in front of a standing-room-only crowd surrounding Bob Suter Court, they were playing for a large audience that was watching via an online live stream.
Edgerton had more of a student section watching on a projector screen just outside the front door of Craig than it had inside the gym—though the 16 students inside were boisterous. Turner’s four-person student section was as loud as four can be—with all of them rooting on their siblings on the court.
Outside of those oddities, though, the game itself had the feel of a sectional game, including several runs back and forth in the first half.
“I thought both teams adapted to it well. Every team has played in gyms that don’t have a lot of energy, where you’ve got to bring your own,” Edgerton head coach Daryl Fox said. “But I don’t think it affected the game at all.
“The people that were here were loud, so that was nice. It’s just too bad to get a high level game like that and you can’t have it (the atmosphere).”
“It was still intense,” Turner head coach Ken Watkins agreed. “Both teams played really, really hard. Our guys ... it was one of the best games we played this year all-around, offensively and defensively. I’m almost speechless when it comes to saying what went right, because everything did.”
Indeed, those that could not see the game missed:
Majeed putting on another dazzling sectional semifinal performance. It wasn’t a 30-pointer like he had on this stage last year, but 21 was enough, and he appeared motivated after not being listed on the WBCA’s Division 3 all-state first team or honorable mention list.
“We all weren’t pleased about it,” said Majeed, who saw conference rivals AJ Vukovich (East Troy, first team) and Clayton Jenny (Edgerton, honorable mention) make the list. “But I just let that play out in the game.”
The Trojans’ bench steal the show for much of the game.
Junior David Heldt had six points in each half, including two key 3-pointers as Turner pulled away in the second half. And senior center Dylan Hoppe scored seven of his eight points in the first half.
Edgerton senior Nick Spang doing what he does best. He used his strong footwork down low to make seven baskets and draw 13 trips to the free-throw line, making 11 on his way to a game-high 25 points.
And Turner’s defense make Edgerton work for absolutely any decent look in the second half. The Tide missed their first eight 3-pointers out of halftime.
Watkins said his players had not dwelled this week on what might happen to the tournament moving forward.
“We got this far last year,” Majeed told me after Thursday’s game. “Now it’s making it even further.”
Unfortunately, the Trojans won’t get that opportunity. And a revamped Elks team won’t get to prove it is state worthy for the second consecutive year.