A 14-point run in the second half made all the difference for the Nicolet Knights boys basketball team when it hosted Grafton in a WIAA Division 2 playoff game Friday. The Knights came out on top with a 48-42 win for their third victory over Grafton this season.

“We work so hard to get to this point,” Nicolet coach Al Hanson said. “We didn’t work this hard just to get here, and that’s what we really wanted the guys to understand. We work hard to keep this train rolling and get things going and live to fight another day. Grafton’s a hell of a team. We beat these guys three times in a season, a senior led team, that’s tough.”

Tied at 26 early in the second half, the Black Hawks went up by six on a pair of threes from Ryan Stachurski and Justin Peters to take a 32-26 lead, but then the Knights took total control.

Jeremy Ninham and Jayden Hardy sank twos for the Knights before Hardy shot a 3-pointer to give his team a 33-32 lead. He followed that with a layup for 7 consecutive points while the Grafton offense couldn’t seem to muster anything. Jack Brahm added a layup for the Knights before Sonny Phinisee hit 1 of 2 free throws. Dakari Williams added a rebound basket to complete the 14-0 run and put the Knights up, 40-32.

“I just told myself, ‘We beat them two times, we had to beat them the third,'" Hardy said. "When you’re down, it’s nothing because you can come back easily. That’s what we did and we got the win. I want to make it to state.”

The Black Hawks fought back for the remainder of the game and were able to close the gap to 5 points twice near the end of the game, but with time running out and both teams in double bonus, Grafton was unable to recover from Nicolet’s momentum shift.

“These are resilient kids,” Grafton coach Damon James said. “They’ll always fight to the end, and that’s what that was about. We were finally able to get some drives to the basket and get the correct calls. We should’ve been like that all game.”

Looking ahead to next season, he added, “You lose 13 great kids, unbelievable men, so you’re starting a little bit from the drawing board, but the JV team did very well. They finished up 16-4, so definitely the future looks bright of what’s coming up.”

Jayden Hardy led the scoring for Nicolet with 15 points, while Grafton’s Justin Peters led all scorers with 21 points. Hanson feels the Knights are playing their best basketball of the season.

“We knew we hadn’t played that good basketball up until these past couple of weeks,” he said, “and these guys came out and battled. They didn’t want to give up. We’re just looking to play another game. We try to conquer each day.”