For Madison Memorial senior guard Miles Chamberlain, leading the Spartans to an eighth straight appearance in the state boys basketball tournament at the Kohl Center isn't just a goal, it's practically an obligation.
"I would hate to be the senior leader that didn't get there," he said Tuesday night after his Spartans prevailed, 60-48, over Milwaukee Riverside in a super sectional matchup at UW-Whitewater.
Chamberlain, along with fellow senior Tre' Burnette, follows in the footsteps of players like Portland Trailblazers guard Wesley Matthews, senior Wisconsin forward Keaton Nankivil, sophomore Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon and freshman Marquette guard Vander Blue who made it their missions as Memorial seniors to play at state.
With an additional division forcing the Division I quarterfinals to be played at regional sites throughout the state on what the WIAA dubbed "Super Tuesday," Memorial's journey involved an extra step this year. Riverside, which finished atop the Milwaukee City Conference, stood in the way and matched the Spartans for the game's first half.
But in the second half, Memorial took advantage of its size and pounded the ball inside, taking just one three-point shot in the half. Starting juniors Jamar "Popcorn" Morris (9 pts., 10 rebounds) and Junior Lomomba (11 pts.), along with Burnette (16 pts.) and Chamberlain (19 pts.), all at 6'5" or taller, attacked the hoop repeatedly, particularly in the transition game, scoring on an array of lay-ups, finger-rolls and short-range jump shots.
The strategy paid dividends at the foul line, as well, as the Spartans sank 16 of 22 free throws to Riverside's 6-of-11.
"A month ago, something happened with this team," said coach Steve Collins after the game. "I don't know what it is, maybe there's something in the water at Memorial, but they decided they were going to start doing some of the stuff we've been preaching all season and you could see it the whole second half."
The catalyst may have been Morris, who was sidelined for most of the season after injuring his shooting hand during football season. A junior, the charismatic "Popcorn" brings not just an imposing inside presence to the team, but a quick grin and joy for competing that is particularly helpful in high-pressure tournament games.
Although this year's Memorial team has plenty of talent on the roster, it's the first of the previous eight that doesn't feature a runaway superstar. This squad could be led in scoring by one of five or six players on a given night.
Memorial will now face Milwaukee Hamilton, which beat Beloit Memorial Tuesday night, in the state semi-finals on Friday night, 6:35 pm, at the Kohl Center. The tournament will be televised in Madison on WKOW, Channel 27.