ONALASKA — Twenty-three hundred people exited Onalaska High School on Friday night after watching something they won’t forget for a long time.
Whether they were at Charles Deeth Fieldhouse to cheer for Onalaska or G-E-T, one fact that will slip their minds the soonest is the fact that the Hilltoppers won by a score of 68-50.
What will stick with them in the long run, whether it be a good memory or bad, is Matt Thomas.
A capacity crowd that started showing up to the school around 4 p.m. and had the place packed without an available seat for nearly all of the varsity reserve game wanted to see something special.
Thomas provided that with what is likely be the best quarter — or maybe half — any of them had seen or ever will see out of a high school basketball player.
The junior guard isn’t the first player to score 18 points in a quarter. At some point, it will happen again.
But duplicating the level of dominance that Thomas showed for six solid minutes in the third quarter is a feat that may not be matched.
“Matt was unbelievable,”
G-E-T senior Riley Bambenek said. “We tried everything we could come up with.
“We tried box-and-one, man with Mitchell (Doerr) on him, tried 2-3 (zone) to get him off his game and other things. It didn’t matter what we did.”
Thomas, a junior guard, scored 32 points and spent the third quarter tearing apart the state’s second-ranked Division 3 team.
He made a 3-pointer when he was wide open, and he made another one with a hand an inch from his face.
He scored in the lane, and he hit shots from the baseline. One them was a fadeaway off of one foot.
He went up high for an alley-oop and calmly guided the ball off the backboard and through the net.
As he did this, top-ranked Onalaska’s lead climbed from five points to 20.
And while Thomas did all of this, he rebounded the ball and moved it with precision to find open teammates for shots.
It wasn’t a player finding a hot spot and unloading time after time. Thomas dictated just about everything that happened on the floor for the first six minutes of the third quarter.
“It’s one of the best feelings to ever have in a game,” said Thomas, who also had 10 rebounds and five assists. “When you get that feeling, you want the ball in your hands, and it was.”
The feeling came out of nowhere because Thomas scored four points on 1-for-5 shooting in the first half.
On the first possession of the third quarter, Ben Socha found him open for a 3-pointer from the left corner.
It swished through the hoop, and Thomas was off.
He was 7-for-8 from the field in the third quarter and 10-for-11 in the second half.
“We felt OK with what we were doing, but he made that one right at the beginning of the third, and then (Socha) put (a 3-pointer) up, and it clanked around and dropped,” Wagner said. “That got him going, and it got them going.”
The Red Hawks (18-1) answered a couple of early runs by the Hilltoppers (17-1), but they faded quickly when Thomas took over.
Thomas kept the crowd at a fevered pitch with an assist to Nick Arenz and a three-point play early in the fourth before creating the most memorable play of the night.
With G-E-T’s Chris Johnson at the free-throw line, Thomas took off down the floor on Johnson’s second release.
Arenz grabbed the ball after the made free throw, stepped out of bounds and fired a long pass toward a streaking Thomas, who caught it and slammed down a two-handed dunk to tear the roof of the fieldhouse.
“Yeah,” Onalaska coach Craig Kowal said with a smile and shake of his head after listing some of the shots that Thomas made and being reminded of the dunk. “Wow, that one was good, too.”
When those in attendance think back to this game, and they will over the years, there might be a bit of embellishment, but it won’t be necessary.
This was the kind of performance that almost doesn’t need words. It needs to be seen to be believed.
And there are roughly 2,300 people who will have it etched in their minds for years to come.