Through a cold snap of near historic proportions this week, the John R. Belden Fieldhouse at Horlick High School was dark and vacant.
And then a kid with a bright smile and a sweet jump shot brought the place alive Friday night in remarkable fashion.
Marquise Milton, a 5-foot-11 senior guard for the Horlick boys basketball team, scored 53 points in a 96-82 Southeast Conference victory over Case. Had Milton not missed five free throws and passed up a last-second wide-open layup, he would have reached 60 points.
While it cannot be said with certainty whether Milton set a record in the 91-year-history of Horlick’s program, there’s a strong chance he did. Bill Frayer, a historian for Horlick athletics, said he did not know of anyone else scoring that many points.
In the girls game immediately beforehand, Case defeated Horlick 60-56 behind 24 points from Ariyah Brooks and 18 from K’Mya Oliver.
Milton, a four-year starter who is averaging 26.1 points a game, scored 10 points in the first four minutes, 37 seconds of the game. And he was only warming up.
“Like I told the team after the game, in 20 years of coaching varsity basketball, I don’t recall an individual performance that matched what we saw tonight,” Horlick coach Jason Treutelaar said. “And I’ve coached some pretty talented kids.
“What we saw out there tonight was a young man who just flat out, no matter what they threw at him, just couldn’t be contained.”
What was surprising is Case (10-5, 4-4 SEC) had won seven of nine going into Friday’s game while Horlick (6-10, 4-4 SEC) has been in a rebuilding season. Equally surprising is Horlick swept Case after beating the Eagles 60-56 Dec. 18 (Milton scored 26 points that night).
But the Eagles simply had no answers for Milton Friday. Coach Jake Berce tried different defenders on him, but Milton kept firing away. He made 14 field goals, seven of which were 3-pointers, and went 18 for 23 from the free-throw line.
“The kid’s a great player,” Berce said. “We threw a lot of different stuff at him, but he was hitting contested shot after contested shot. He was getting to the free-throw line, as well. He has a knack for drawing fouls and getting to the line. He played an unbelievable game tonight.”
What’s more, Milton predicted a big night for himself. While in the weight room Friday with some of his teammates, he made a prediction.
“He said, ‘I’m going to have at least 40,’ “ Horlick junior guard Montre Wainwright said. “I’ve never seen him shoot like this in my life — ever.”
Milton, whose previous high was 39 points against Milwaukee Destiny last season, said he felt it from the start. He credited his teammates for helping him along.
“They tried to deny me the ball, but my teammates have a way of finding me open for an open shot,” he said.
Milton reached 50 points with 2:25 left when he made two free throws after being fouled by Amari Jedkins.
“I’m going to remember this until I’m very, very old,” Milton said. “People are going to be reminding me of it. It’s a blessing, man. It’s a blessing.”
Case trailed throughout this game and was never able to make a serious move with Milton so hot. Milton’s performance ended up overshadowing a 27-point effort by JaKobe Thompson and 18 by Terryon Brumby.
The Eagles’ offense was as potent as ever. But Berce concedes there’s plenty of work to be done on defense.
“Our defensive effort needs to be a hundred times better,” he said.
In the girls game, Case (8-5, 6-3 SEC) completed a sweep over Horlick (11-5, 6-3 SEC). The Eagles accomplished it with an effective strategy against 5-11 Horlick center Olivia Pitrof, who had 36 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks in a 73-72 loss to Case Dec. 18.
In the rematch, Pitrof was held to 23 points and 12 rebounds. And nine of her points came in the final 3:10, when Horlick outscored Case 10-5.
The player most responsible for holding Pitrof in check was Brooks, who also excelled offensively. Brooks tried to make the left-handed Pitrof go to her right and received plenty of help.
“We told her, ‘You’ve got to be aggressive without fouling,’ and I thought she did a heck of a job,” Case coach Wally Booker said.
Said Brooks, “I played her straight up and tried to force her in the opposite direction whenever we could. We just tried to get around her and deny her the ball. People would drop down and double down on her.”
Still, Horlick made a spirited run and it started with senior guard Jordann Ellison, who scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half. Ellison connected on three 3-pointers.
“We were down by 16 at half and got it within five, got it within seven and ended up losing by four,” Horlick coach Ambrial Sanders. “They worked their butts off to get back into this game, but we can’t let ourselves get in that big of a hole.”