Belief runs strong throughout the Nicolet boys basketball team.
The Knights didn't panic when they fell behind 15-0 to host Whitefish Bay on the Blue Dukes' senior night Thursday, Feb. 2, and they didn't lose faith in each other when a drought lasting more than six minutes in the second half erased their six-point lead.
Further, coach Al Hanson wasn't going to call a timeout when the Knights had the ball in a tie game and just more than 30 seconds left to play.
Because he had faith in his kids and he knew they would reward his faith in them.
With less than eight seconds left, junior guard Jeremy Ninham drove the lane and kicked it out to senior forward Isaiah Glidden who was standing on the right baseline. Glidden calmly caught the ball and drained the 3-pointer with about two seconds to go. Nicolet subsequently played stout defense on the inbound and Bay didn't get a good look as the Knights came up with an astounding 61-58 victory, their third win by three points or fewer in the last two weeks.
"With 30 seconds to go in a tie game, they've learned to trust each other and I've learned to trust them," said Hanson. "Seven to eight weeks ago in that situation, I would have called a timeout, but I trusted Jeremy to hit Isaiah with that pass and I trusted Isaiah.
"This is just huge for us."
Glidden reflected his coaches' attitude.
"We went to the locker at halftime and coach yelled at us a little (for the poor start), but coach also did a great job of keeping us in the game," said Glidden. "As for the play, I just saw Jeremy driving. I popped to the corner, got the ball and then it was a blur from then on out."
What's not a blur for the Knights is the fact that this was their third win in a row and fifth in their last six and, more importantly, it vaulted them into second place in the North Shore Conference at 7-3 in league play and 11-7 overall while Bay fell to 6-4 and 8-8 overall.
But with four games left on the regular season schedule, Hanson doesn't want the team getting too happy with itself.
"It's been a long time since a Nicolet team was in second place in the North Shore," Hanson said, "but as I told the guys, this can't be the peak of the season. We've got a lot more to accomplish."
A little better start to games would be one accomplishment that Hanson would love to see. The Knights went scoreless for close to nine minutes as the Blue Dukes built their early lead. A 3-pointer by Cade Garcia gave the Blue Dukes their largest lead of the night at 15-0 at the 8:59 mark of the half.
"The early start to the game (5:45 p.m., the opener of the boy-girl doubleheader) after a long school day threw us off a bit," said Hanson. "I take full responsibility for that."
But when Ninham finally hit a driving layup to make it 15-3 with 8:29 left in the half and then other baskets followed, Nicolet could start to use its full-court press to great effect.
Bay, which maintained a double-digit lead on the strength of four 3-pointers over the next four minutes, simply had a hard time handling the pressure and turned the ball over much too often in the last few minutes of the half. Gunnar Stock hit a 3-pointer to give the Blue Dukes a 27-14 lead with 2:36 to go, but then Nicolet closed the half on a 15-2 run that was capped by a hoop from Ninham with just two seconds left in the half to tie the score at 29-29 heading into the break.
"We like to use our defense to create some offense when we can," said Hanson.
The second half was intense throughout as it featured 13 lead changes. Nicolet had a 50-44 advantage with 10:34 to go, but then the Knights were stifled by the Bay defense for more than six minutes as two free throws put the Dukes up 51-50 with 6:34 to go.
The final six minutes, as Glidden would have put it, were a blur.
Nicolet had a 58-55 lead with just 1:02 to go. Bay's Demetrius Johnson hit a drive and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but the Knights missed their next shot shot, and another Niciolet foul gave the Blue Dukes a chance at the lead. Johnson hit one of two free throws with 37 seconds to go and the game was tied at 58-58.
That led to Hanson taking a deep breath and trusting the Knights.
Xavier Johnson and Demetrius Johnson would lead Bay with 13 points each while Harry Grams had 12 and Cade Garcia 11. The Blue Dukes hit just 6-of-15 free throws.
Meanwhile, Jayden Hardy led Nicolet with 19 points, while Ninham had 15, Jack Brahm 12 and Glidden eight.
The Knight players and fans mobbed Glidden afterward and they did a happy dance in the locker room after earning a season sweep from their archrivals.
Hanson said it was a special win..
"When we were struggling, we just kept telling the kids to play hard," he said. "We like to say, 'the harder you play, the luckier you'll get.'
"We're just growing and learning good habits together," he added. "These kids just compete. They battle their tails off."
"The atmosphere at practice is just so much better," he said. "For us to pull out three or four like this is just amazing. It really gives us a lot of confidence."