The last thing any basketball coach wants to see his team go through after a tough, emotional defeat like the Nicolet boys suffered on Jan. 11 against North Shore leader Cedarburg is to come back just two nights later and play another emotionally draining game.
This one going to overtime.
But that's what the Knights did on Jan. 13, as they took a deep breath and hung on to beat Milwaukee Lutheran, 79-76.
"We really needed that one," said Knight coach Al Hanson. "We haven't peaked yet, we haven't fully hit our stride, but this did shine a light on what we can do if we play a complete game. A definite step in the right direction."
The Knights were stymied by Cedarburg in that makeup of an earlier snow-out, 55-39. The split left them at 3-3 in North Shore play and 7-6 overall.
They will be at Port Washington (0-6 in NSC play) on Friday, Jan. 20, and then will host powerful, state-ranked Riverside at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, in a nonconference tilt.
The Lutheran game was a roller-coaster ride, Hanson said. Nicolet went up, 37-29, at the half only to have the Red Knights rally at the start of the second half.
"They made some shots," he said. "It was always a game of runs, but then we helped them with a few turnovers and bone-headed plays."
At the end of regulation with the score tied at 74-74, Lutheran had a chance to win the game, but the Knights blocked a shot. Nicolet got off a very rushed shot before the buzzer sounded, but it was off the mark.
The overtime was lacking a little energy, Hanson said, because "both teams were gassed."
But the Knights were able to earn the lead behind some key free throws from Jack Brahm and Sonny Phinisee.
"We also took care of the ball, and they missed a few free throws themselves," Hanson said.
But still, the Knights had to hold on tight, as in the final second of OT, Lutheran came down and got a good look at a tying 3-pointer that Hanson said went halfway down before it popped out.
"The basketball gods were on our side with that one," he said with a laugh.
The junior forward Brahm had a career game with 27 points, including 7 of 11 free throws.
"The last couple of games he's really found himself (offensively)," Hanson said. "He's been a defensive stopper for us, but he was very aggressive going to the basket this game."
Jayden Hardy added 18 points (including 6 of 6 free throws), while Phinisee added 10 and Isaiah Glidden 8. Hanson said Hardy is playing very well on both ends of the floor right now. Nicolet hit 18 of 30 free throws in the contest, while Lutheran knocked down 16 of 23.
In the home game against Cedarburg (6-0 in league), the Knights just couldn't get anything done offensively. They were down,24-17, at the half and never caught up. The Bulldogs were expert at getting to the line (18 of 22 free throws for the game), while the Knights managed just 1-of-7. Hardy had 12 points, and Dakari Williams added 11.