St. Thomas More won its first boys basketball state championship with a 65-54 victory over Lakeside Lutheran on March 16. (Photos by Eric Waukau)

Tony Mane could see how focused his St. Thomas More Cavaliers were long before the 2023-24 basketball season even began.

Based on how the season before ended, there was nothing that was going to get in the way of their ultimate goal: the WIAA Division 3 state championship.

The Cavaliers completed their journey to the school’s first WIAA boys basketball championship with a 65-54 victory over Lakeside Lutheran on Saturday, March 16, at the Kohl Center in Madison. St. Thomas More, which went 29-1 for the season, were led by 20 points by Sekou Konneh and 19 more from Kyle Alivo.

“It was a great feeling,” said Mane, in his second year as head coach at the school on Milwaukee’s South Side near Lake Michigan. “It was pure joy when that clock hit zero. The biggest thing was seeing all the hard work these 16 young men put in all year, and to see that hard work pay off was awesome.”

The thing that drove the Cavaliers was an 85-80 overtime loss to Milwaukee Academy of Science in 2023 sectional final. Lo and behold, the closest game St. Thomas More faced in their 2024 title run was a 75-72 victory over Milwaukee Academy of Science.

“Motivation was the biggest thing from last year,” Mane said. “Being so close to state and losing in OT, we had a very motivated team returning for this year. I saw it during condition drills before the season started, this team was eager and hungry to get to Madison.”

From there, none of their three remaining games was closer than double digits.

The Cavaliers’ lone loss of the season was to Wisconsin Lutheran, which later on March 16 won the Division 2 state championship.

“The biggest thing was we did not come out ready to go and Wisconsin Lutheran took it to us in the first half,” Mane said. “We played really well in the second half and almost got the win. This really showed our guys you need to be ready to go right from the start.”

Lakeside Lutheran led 32-29 at halftime of the championship game, but that didn’t faze the focused Cavaliers.

They took the lead for good with 8:58 left in the game after a dunk in the lane by Konneh put them ahead 46-45. Over the next four-plus minutes, that lead ballooned to 59-48.  Alivo hit a 3-pointer and had five points in that 13-2 push that gave St. Thomas More some cushion to work.

“This team never had concerns when we were down,” Mane said. “We played a loaded schedule, a lot of tight games against great teams. We know what makes us successful on the offensive and defensive end, we just had to get back to that. Getting out in transition and looking for easy baskets, and on the defensive end, we just needed to continue with ball pressure and making everything difficult for Lakeside Lutheran. We made some adjustments at halftime with the defense and how we were going to play the ball screens; offensively, we knew a run was going to come. We simply have a ton of talented offensive players; we knew a run was coming at some point.”

Amari McCottry led the Cavaliers in scoring through their first 26 games, averaging 23.0 points a game, while Konneh averaged 22.9 points. In the 68-45 state semifinal victory over Prescott, Konneh had 22 points and McCottry added 18. McCottry chipped in with 11 in the championship.

“Amari and Sekou are fantastic players — high major Division 1 players,” Mane said, noting they haven’t made collegiate decisions yet. “They can do things on the court that most kids cannot do — all-conference and all-state players, best two players in school history. But we had other guys really step up.”

Alivo will play college baseball at the University of Iowa, while Evan Oleson will play basketball at Carroll University in Waukesha and Stephen Wenzel will play hoops at Concordia University in Mequon.

Top returners for the Cavaliers next year will include Omar Fofana, a sophomore who hit a 3-pointer in the late second-half run in the championship game, junior Kenari Parr and sophomore Brayden Alivo.