MADISON — The crowd at the Kohl Center was ready for a good basketball game Friday afternoon and got it.
Every now and then, you might hear someone ask how Wisconsin’s Big Ten Tournament game against Nebraska was going, but it wasn’t often.
The Central High School boys basketball team’s WIAA Division 2 state semifinal against Milwaukee Washington provided plenty of reasons to hold the attention of everyone sitting or standing at their seats.
The Purgolders ended up winning 72-71 in overtime, and they were probably plenty of people in attendance who could talk about every momentum change and big play. The audience was glued to the action, which isn’t always the case if the Badgers are playing elsewhere.
They exploded when Michael Foster Jr. made two shots in the final 25 seconds to go, and with just about anything Central junior Johnny Davis did between the opening tip and final buzzer.
The biggest reaction Davis received may have been on the attempted one-handed alley-oop off a pass from Noah Parcher late in the second half. He didn’t convert it, but the effort to make such an impactful play during such a close game was obviously appreciated.
Davis, who is being recruited by Wisconsin and other schools, had 31 points and eight rebounds as the Red Raiders finished a 24-3 season. Central has a 74-8 record since he joined the program, and the Badger fan base was making its push on Friday.
“The guys rely on me a lot to do everything,” said Davis, who made 11 of 27 shots and hit two free throws with 4 seconds left to force overtime. “I can’t let them down.”
Having Aquinas graduate Bronson Koenig spend four successful seasons with the Badgers, and Central’s Kobe King following him to Madison, where he’s a redshirt freshman, Davis has become a serious target in an effort to keep the La Crosse pipeline going.
Even though the Purgolders won, Davis may have been the biggest part of the show. Foster took over the starring role in the final minute.
But that won’t erase the back-to-back lobs that Davis converted in the first half — one a dunk from Noah Parcher, the other a lay-in from his brother Jordan — or the putbacks or the assists he had to Terrance Thompson and David Hayden late in the game.
The Thompson dunk gave the Red Raiders a 57-55 lead with 5:12 left in regulation, and his full-court pass to Hayden — remember that Davis is a quarterback — led to a three-point play that gave them a 71-67 lead with 32 seconds left in overtime.
Davis didn’t do everything.
Parcher’s 3-pointer after Washington scored the first four points in overtime was as big as Hayden’s follow on a missed layup with 43 seconds left in regulation.
The Red Raiders will have to figure out a way to replace the production of those two, but the Davis brothers and Thompson will be focused as a group on extending the current state run to five years and capitalizing on their final chance at winning gold a year from now.
And as good as the show was on Friday, they intend on making it even better if they get the opportunity to perform again.