During the waning minutes of the tense Woodland Conference boys basketball showdown Thursday, Feb. 23, between No. 9-ranked Brown Deer and second-ranked Pewaukee, a Falcons fan shouted "It's your destiny; take it."
Senior guard Damon Jackson was listening.
Pirates star forward Aidan Norquist had just drained two free throws with 9.9 seconds left to tie the score at 65-65. With Brown Deer out of timeouts, Jackson slowly brought the ball up the floor, then sped up as he crossed the center circle. He then got into the lane and confidently hit a little floater just before the buzzer to give the Falcons a 67-65 victory and earn them a share of their fifth consecutive Woodland Conference East Division title in the regular season closer for both teams.
"I just wanted to put it up with confidence," Jackson said. "I was ready to do whatever it takes. This is a good, good feeling, because when you come to Pewaukee, you know its always going to be a dogfight."
Brown Deer coach Kelly Appleby initially thought that Jackson was taking a little too much time getting the ball up the court after the free throws, but later credited his point guard for being the smartest man in the building.
"Neither of us had any timeouts left," said Appleby, "but I don't think I would have called one anyway. I love a broken floor like that. It's Brown Deer-style basketball. I knew we'd have a good shot at the rim. Damon took his time, but in the end it proved to be a smart decision. He knew what he was doing."
So, Brown Deer, which was about three games back of Whitnall in the East Division race about three weeks ago, and was not thinking hard about any titles, wound up sharing the division crown with Whitnall at 13-3 in league play. Whitnall routed New Berlin West the same night to earn its share.
It was the Falcons' seventh win in a row and improved them to 17-5 overall. Pewaukee, the Western Division Woodland champ, finished at 14-2 in league and 19-3 overall.
Senior guard Jalen Greenlee, who finished with 15 points, said it was important to validate the Falcon brand of hoops.
"Brown Deer has a real big legacy in basketball and this is our fifth time winning it," he said. "No one wanted to be the one to kill the legacy. Pewaukee is a good team. It had won its side, so this was a great win for us to get ready for the playoffs."
The game had a playoff feel, as the much smaller Brown Deer team played with great urgency from the start. The Falcons were active on the glass and hit big shots when they needed them. Pewaukee held its last lead at 27-24 with 2:12 left in the first half, but then Brown Deer closed out on a 7-0 run, finished off by a four-point play by junior guard Jay Gentry with 58 seconds to go that gave the Falcons a 31-27 lead at the break.
Gentry led Brown Deer with 22 points.
The Falcons continued hot to start the second half as a 12-4 run, highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers from Gentry and Greenlee, gave Brown Deer its largest lead of the game at 43-31 with 14:42 left.
But Pewaukee, which had entered the game with a five-game winning streak, pushed back on its home floor. A 9-0 run finished off by a hoop from Nordquist (24 points) made it 50-49 Brown Deer with about 9:45 to go. The Pirates alternated between a variety of zones and man defenses to try and keep the swift Falcons off guard, but Pewaukee could never gain the lead in the second session.
The stretch run was filled with mini-surges as a 3 from Greenlee made it 59-53 Brown Deer with 4:37 left, but a short time later, a trey from Nordquist closed it to to 61-60 Falcons with 3:21 left.
A combination steal by Jackson and Greenlee and a tough rebound from center Johnny Saengphonphakdy (eight points) led to two Gentry free throws and a 65-60 lead with 39 seconds left.
But senior forward Wyatt Cook hit an awkward looking 3-pointer for Pewaukee to close the gap to 65-63 with 28 seconds left. Brown Deer missed the front end of a bonus situation and that eventually led to Nordquist's free throws and Jackson's heroics.
"I always had confidence in my team," said Gentry. "Damon got the shot and we pulled it through."
Jackson would finish with 16 points.
Brown Deer Athletic Director and former head basketball coach Mike Novak, who lost several tough games out at Pewaukee in his time, said "breathing was optional" during that stretch run.
The team posed for happy pictures afterward, flashing five fingers for five titles.
Appleby said it was a great win, one that should put the Falcons, who won Division 3 state titles in 2014 and 2015, back on the map in state hoops.
"I feel good about the program," he said. "These kids have been very dedicated all season and I think being the underdog was a good thing. It was new for them and gave them an opportunity to show people around the area, around the state, that we are a quality team. It's like I said before we won our first state title. 'If they don't show us respect, then we'll go out and take it.'"