PEORIA — They will remember having a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. They will remember all the emotional wins that got them to the state tournament.
But the Madison Trojans also will probably always wonder why the final seven minutes of the Class 1A state championship game had to be so painful as their magical run ended with a 55-44 loss to (Mason City) Illini Central.
"We wanted it so bad, everybody wanted it," said Madison senior Marquis Borney, who had a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds for the 21-12 Trojans. "Everybody looked to me and told me how they wanted it. Then when I can't pull it off for them, that's disappointing to me."
The same Illini Central team that seemed almost completely unable to hit long-range shots for most of the first three quarters --the Cougars missed 16 of their first 17 3-point attempts -- suddenly caught fire early in the fourth quarter.
In the span of 22 seconds Illini Central (27-5) got a steal from Connor Martin, a 3-pointer from Jared Entwistle and another 3 from Justin Onken.
Entwistle, the first-team all-stater who was scoreless in the first half and missed his first seven 3-point tries, drained his 3 to tie it at 32-32 with 6:57 remaining.
Following a Madison timeout, Onken struck, ending an 0-for-8 shooting slump, by hitting his 3 and Illini Central never trailed again.
The Cougars outscored Madison 23-12 the rest of the way, with 16 points coming on free throws.
"I don't know if Jared had even made a shot to that point (he made one midway through the third quarter), but I knew he was going to make several down the stretch," Illini Central coach John Giesler said. "He just always does. He might be 0-for-10 and I just tell him to keep shooting."
The Cougars scored more points in the fourth quarter (28) than they had in the first three combined (27).
"We worked extremely, extremely hard to get a five-point lead and within 30 seconds they hit a shot and then we missed a shot ... then they hit that three," Madison coach Jaime Cotto said. "It was like 24 minutes of hard, hard, hard work and they took it away in 30 seconds."
Madison didn't help itself by hitting just 9 of 20 free throws and committing 18 turnovers.
Madison outshot Illini Central 37.2 percent to 34.8, though neither team shot well. Illini Central hit only 3 of 21 3-point attempts and was outrebounded 40-24 by the Trojans.
But Madison almost never worked the ball inside to 6-foot-5 Deontay Starnes, who scored only four points and took just two shots. After Borney's 24 points, no one else from Madison had more than five points.
"These are the hardest-working guys I've ever played basketball with," Borney said. "But to see them come down and take what we worked hard for in 30 seconds ... that could deflate anyone. It just deflated us."
Madison added a second-place trophy to an impressive collection that already includes two state titles (1977 and 1981), a third-place finish (2010) and a fourth (1980).
"It's tough to be happy, but we still did better than anyone thought we were going to do," Borney said. "It's going to take a while, but I think we're going to be happy with what we did."
Entwistle finished with a team-high 16 points while Jordan Bradshaw added 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Cougars, who won their first state title of any kind in school history.
Madison led 9-2 early and the Trojans were still up 16-9 when the Cougars began chipping away. A three-point play by Martin helped ignite Illini Central and Bradshaw hit consecutive shots that tied it and then gave the Cougars their first lead late in the first half.
A 3-pointer by Borney just before the first half expired gave the Trojans a 21-20 halftime lead. Borney struggled to find a rhythm, hitting only four of his first 13 shots and finishing 8-of-24 from the floor.
Both teams had critical areas of concern at halftime.
Madison had 11 turnovers, many of them unforced errors. The Trojans' 2-3 zone defense made things tough on Illini Central, forcing the Cougars into 9-for-28 shooting in the first half (32 percent).
Illini Central also missed 11 of 12 3-point attempts in the first half.
Borney had 17 of Madison's 32 points through three quarters and his free throws sent the Trojans into the fourth quarter with a 32-27 lead.
That proved to be their high-water mark.
"I'm very, very proud of my kids," Cotto said. "A lot of people didn't think we were going to make it this far. We stuck together like a family, like we talked about all season. We just didn't finish around the rim and missed a lot of free throws."