Ripon’s Melvin Lee is no stranger to being in the spotlight.
Last year, the 5-foot, 5-inch senior guard dunked over two taller Morse-Marshall defenders while playing for Milwaukee Riverside.
The dunk went viral, racking up more than 608,000 views on a MaxPrep post on YouTube.
Lee had another magic moment Thursday night as he sunk a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to defeat Waupun 53-50 and send Ripon to the sectional finals.
With the win, the Tigers (25-0 overall) will play Martin Luther (22-3) Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Whitefish Bay for a chance to go to the state tournament.
While Lee’s shot likely will not be viewed as many times as the dunk, he puts it at the top of his list.
“I think this is higher because we’re in the playoffs and we’ve got to keep going so we can get to state,” Lee said of the 3-pointer.
The shot came following a Ripon timeout and inbounds with 8 seconds left in the game.
“We ran a set we run every time we get a sideline-out-of-bounds,” Ripon head coach Dean Vander Plas said. “We just tweaked one thing to go into a triangle look so that Eddie [Muench], Ben [Vander Plas] and Melvin were all on the same side and then just basically allowing them to pick their poison.
“They backed off and took away the post pass to Ben, denied the flash catch to Eddie, left Melvin wide open and he knocked it down.”
Lee added he didn’t have much time to think about the shot.
“When I came around the corner I knew we only had eight seconds, so we had to make [a] quick decision,” he said. “So I passed it to Eddie and then they both collapsed on him. I was just wide open, so when he kicked it back, I was looking for Ben and I just had to make a last-second decision.”
He didn’t know right away after shooting it that it was going in.
“[Marcus Domask] was taller than me, so I couldn’t really see it after I shot it,” Lee said. “So I shot it and I just looked to the side and saw it going in the rim.”
From there it was a blur.
“I was right in front of the student section, so as soon as I shot it everybody just tackled me,” Lee said, noting everything went crazy.
Lee’s impact in the game was not just limited to his heroics.
He scored the Tigers’ first 11 points to help keep the game close and finished with a career-high 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting.
“They had decided they were going to try to take Ben and Eddie away,” Dean Vander Plas said. “They were going to limit their touches and their effectiveness and we know the other kids had to step up and carry us. “And God bless Melvin; he sure did. He hit gaps. He got to the rim. He hit open shots.”
Despite Lee doing everything in his power to keep Ripon in the game, it trailed the Warriors (19-6) 24-22 at halftime and faced a 42-34 deficit with around 7 minutes left in the game.
“Give them credit: they had a game plan that they wanted to limit Eddie and Ben’s effectiveness. We got some looks that we didn’t hit and then I think we started to press just a hair bit; the ball started to slip through our hands a little bit,” Dean Vander Plas said.
While thoughts of deja vu to last year — when the Tigers lost to the Warriors 69-59 in a sectional semifinal game in West Bend — could have started to creep in the minds of the players, they battled back.
A big reason for the comeback was their defense as they got several easy baskets off of steals.
“We knew we had pressure in our back pocket that we could go to yet and I just wanted to make sure we had enough gas in the tank to get to the finish line and enough fouls,” Dean Vander Plas said. “We started to extend the defense and really get in passing lanes.”
He also added they attempted to limit the number of times Waupun’s leading scorer, Domask, had the ball. The sophomore finished with just 15 points on 11 shots.
“We really tried to make sure that Domask didn’t have the ball in his hands, and on the full-court you can do that a little better — you deny him and other guys got to bring it. They threw the ball around a little bit more,” Dean Vander Plas said. “I don’t know that he took many of their shots other than that back-door layup that they got with about two minutes left to go.”
Ben Vander Plas, who had only three points in the first 29 minutes, got the comeback started for Ripon. He sunk a 3-pointer and hammered down a dunk with a little less than six minutes remaining to cut the deficit to 42-39.
Then, after Waupun scored a basket, Ripon recorded the next five points in the game at the free-throw line on six attempts to tie it.
Hunter Merrill followed the free throws with a steal and basket to give the Tigers their first lead since midway through the first half.
The advantage was short-lived, however, as the Warriors scored the next four points to reclaim a 48-46 lead with less than two minutes left.
Ben Vander Plas then cut the lead in half at the free-throw line as he made one out of two, and Lee followed by making three out of four to give Ripon a 50-48 lead.
But Waupun once again had an answer as Domask got to the free-throw line himself with around 30 seconds remaining and knocked down both of his free throws to set up Lee’s game-winning shot.
Dean Vander Plas was proud of the resiliency the Tigers showed.
“Words can’t describe the pride I have in just the perseverance and effort that our kids bring to the floor every night, not just tonight,” he said. “You all got to see what I get to see every day: that these kids just take advantage of every minute they’ve got to get better. They played this one to the final buzzer and we needed all 36 minutes. I am extremely proud of them, [but we’ve] got work left to do.”
Outside of Lee’s game-high 26 points, Ripon received nine points each from Ben Vander Plas and Eddie Muench and five points from Marshall Morrin — all of which came in the first half.
It shot 40 percent (18 of 44) from the field, which is one of its lowest percentages of the season.
Waupun, meanwhile, converted 51 percent (22 of 43) of its shots, but was just 15 percent (2 of 13) from behind the 3-point line.