Moving up the road to respectability, there are bound to be some bumps in the road for the Nicolet boys basketball team and first-year coach Al Hanson.
So Hanson will take the 82-40 drubbing the Knights suffered at the hands of Milwaukee Riverside on Jan. 21 with a grain of salt and look on the bright side of things — such as the Knights showing more mental toughness down the stretch in their 63-60 North Shore Conference victory over Port Washington the night before on Jan. 20.
With the split, the Knights improved to 4-3 in the North Shore Conference and 8-7 overall. They will host a surging Germantown team, which has won four games in a row, on Friday, Jan. 27.
"We took some Mike Tyson hooks there," chuckled Hanson about the Riverside game. "Against Port, we had our opportunities to make our free throws and make it a little easier, but Port still had the last possession, and they had a real good look at it. Their coach had drawn up a good play. I was surprised when it didn't go in."
Hanson was pleased the Knights were able to pull out this victory despite being without the services of second leading scorer junior forward Jack Brahm, who was nursing a hamstring problem.
That gave an opportunity for leading scorer senior forward Jayden Hardy to step up, and he did, with a career-high 28 points, including 5 of 6 free throws.
"Jayden has been huge for us all this year," Hanson said. "He really provides us the scoring punch that we need."
The Pirates went ahead, 37-33, at the half, as the Knights trailed by as many as 8, but then the game became a one- to five-point affair the rest of the way.
"Their players battled, really competed against us all night," Hanson said.
But Hanson also liked the way his team fought back.
"The kids really competed and believed in each other," he said. "It's part of the culture we're trying to instill here. We just need to go out there and compete, and we did.
"It was a real good sign considering that we had (semester) exams this week. I was really happy how we weathered the storm,"
Senior forward Isaiah Glidden helped out with 14 points, while junior guard Jeremy Ninham had 10. Nicolet hit 16 of 22 free throws as compared to 15 of 25 for the Pirates. Glidden hit 6 of 8 free throws.
Hanson believes this was another corner turned for the still-youthful Knights.
"The majority of these guys are first-year varsity players," he said. "To be at 8-7 with only one really bad loss is a good sign for them at this point in the season. Weeks like these should help us prepare for the playoffs."