MADISON - If Saturday afternoon was foreshadowing of Sam Dekker’s collegiate career, it won’t be the first time his performance draws a standing ovation.
With his team needing a miracle, Dekker scored 12 of his Division 5 state-record 40 points in the final 50 seconds, including the game-winning 3-pointer from the corner with 4.6 seconds left, to lead Sheboygan Lutheran to a 67-66 state championship stunner over Racine Lutheran.
“I told myself, ‘I am not going to tie this game. I am just going to hit it,’” said Dekker. “I came down and I did it.”
Dekker’s performance caps an impressive weekend. Combined with his 35-point performance in the semifinals, he scored 30 or more points 16 times, including a career-high 58 in a victory over Random Lake Feb.21.
It’s the first state title for Sheboygan Lutheran (25-4) in its first title appearance, and the trophy has everything to do with Dekker – a four-star Wisconsin basketball commit and 2012 Mr. Basketball winner – being a one-man savior in the fourth quarter.
Down eight with 69 seconds left, Dekker’s scored three points on three straight possessions, including a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left to cut the score to 65-64, the closest Sheboygan Lutheran had been since the midpoint of the third quarter.
“I thought I was playing terrible in the third quarter and I needed to find my rhythm again in the fourth,” said Dekker. “Those guys know if I am in a flow, they’re smart basketball players. They’ll set me high ball screens when I find my rhythm. I had to carry us that last minute or two because I wanted to win so bad. All those guys knew I had that in me and I love that they trust me to take those shots.”
After Racine Lutheran’s Neko Graf – who had done such an admirable job in guarding Dekker and limiting him to three points in the third quarter – went 1-for-2 from the free throw line, the 6-9 senior saw his window of opportunity with 12.9 seconds left.
Catching the ball unchallenged and driving up court, Dekker – running a play his team calls ‘split’ - used a behind-the-back dribble to gain separation from defender Ty Demuth, drove to the corner and shot fading away from Graf. The result of the off balanced shot was perfect and Dekker raised his arms in triumph when Racine Lutheran’s half-court shot was off the mark.
“The first time we played him, I think he took five or six 3s and he didn't make any of them,” said Graf, referring to his team’s 73-55 victory over Dekker on Dec.27. “At times, I was playing off of him because I knew he couldn't make 3s. But then - just our luck - he makes two of them within a minute. They end up being crucial 3s and they gave them the victory.”
Dekker was an efficient 16-for-28 shooting, scored 59.7 percent of his team’s points, registered a game-high 13 rebounds and all three of his team’s blocks. More importantly, he hit his final three 3-pointers after starting the game 1-for-8 from outside the arc.
“A storybook finish,” said coach and father Todd Decker. “It feels like a dream (but) don’t wake me up … He’s got a great future ahead of him and I know how hard he’s going to work. It’s been a blessing, a privilege and an honor as a coach and a dad. It’s a fine line doing those things but like all our players, they carry themselves real well … He’s a great kid. He’s fun off the court and boy he’s sure fun to coach on the court.”
Racine Lutheran (26-3) got four players in double figures, but missed five free throws in the final 58 seconds to set up Dekker’s heroics.
“We were playing pretty good against (Dekker) the whole time,” said Racine Lutheran coach Jeff Christensen. “We just tried to find him early in the offense so he couldn’t get the ball and try to frustrate him a little bit, but he’s a great player. We didn’t do anything different in the fourth quarter. He hit the last two threes when we had a double team on. What more can you say? He pulls up from 29 feet, pulls the trigger and hit them. What can you do?”
Dekker, who averaged 32.5 points this season, finished his four-year varsity career with 2,593 points – fourth most in state history and 54 points ahead of former Cassville athlete and UW basketball player Sam Okey.
“I don’t feel like I have to prove myself,” said Dekker. “I know I have skills. I’ve been blessed. There are people out there that are going to doubt everyone. People a lot of times hate people who have success. You just have to have a good head on your shoulders, know there’s going to be people doubting you out there. Inside you just have to keep working harder and hopefully prove them wrong down the line.”
After starting the game with an alley-oop dunk and ending it on a historic shot, Dekker shouldn’t have to worry about the doubters anymore.
“I just wanted to win state,” Dekker said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more, the way it ended.”
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