Homestead sophomore point guard Lamonte' Bearden knew he was going to sink at least one free throw in the delicate situation he was placed in Friday night in the Highlanders' North Shore Conference showdown with Whitefish Bay.
How delicate? Try being fouled with one second left and the score tied at 60-all with a share of first place in the North Shore Conference on the line.
And then just for fun, Bearden tightened the screws on himself and Highlander fans just a little more by missing the first toss.
"Oh God," he laughed, many minutes after he sank the second throw giving Homestead a critical 61-60 victory over the defending state D2 champs and keeping their massive first-place showdown at top-ranked in state Germantown (13-0) next Friday intact.
"I knew I was going to sink one and more importantly, the team believed I was going to sink it too. They told me to miss the second one (if he made the first one). I guess I got that backwards (laughs)."
Highlander coach Marquis Hines could laugh afterwards, but knows that his thin, athletic and very talented point, who lettered as a freshman last year, is sometimes both a glass viewed as half empty as well as half full.
"LaMonte Bearden drives me crazy sometimes," said Hines with all sincerity and humor, "but he made the one and that's all that counts. I'm still not pleased with his defense, but I live and die with him."
Happily, as the Highlanders improved to 6-0 in NSC play and 12-1 overall. Germantown, which routed Nicolet this night, is also 6-0 in conference.
And what does a free throw like the one Bearden sank do for his and the team's confidence?
"We're extremely excited about that game (Germantown)," he said. "We think we can beat them."
But first the Highlanders had to beat a Bay team (4-2, 8-4, respectively) which in Hines' mind, still had the "swagger" that helped win it that WIAA state title last March.
"They've won a state championship and they're still thinking like state champions," said Hines. "We knew that they would be sky-high going into this one because once you win one of those you believe you can do anything."
And Hines should know, having led the Milwaukee Vincent women to such championships in recent years.
But rarely did Hines have to endure such an exhausting second half as he did Friday night, as the Highlanders and Blue Dukes engaged in an epic and intense struggle that included seven lead changes and four ties.
The last tie came with 10 seconds remaining as Bay point guard Will Davis ("A great floor leader," said Hines) roared in tight to the basket and hit a lay-up to make it 60-all.
Homestead did not call a time-out, leaving the ball in Bearden's hands. Hines was confident that Bearden was going to make a play, but wasn't sure when, as Bearden did not start to make his move from just across the center circle in the Chekouras gym at Homestead until there was about four seconds remaining.
Bearden still wasn't close to the basket yet with about two seconds remaining, and everyone was certain a desperation heave was coming, but before the final horn could sound, a whistle blew, signaling a foul.
There was just one second remaining and the Highlanders were in the super-bounus.
That's when Hines called a critical time-out.
"I didn't think he'd take that much time off," said Hines of Bearden, "but I was certain he'd get a shot off or get to the foul line."
And what did Bearden hear in that time-out?
"I was hearing that the bench was believed in me," he said. It was noted that he had also hit an epic game-winning shot as a freshman against Brown Deer.
Bay coach Kevin Lazovik and the Blue Duke bench could only shrug their shoulders as Bearden made believers out of his teammates by swishing the second toss after clanging the first one off the iron.
The Blue Dukes actually got the ball well into the front-court before time expired but the shot was well off the mark.
"We hung in there and hung in there and really showed a lot of fight," said Lazovik, noting that starting center Christian Lane had to leave the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. "We just came up a little short."
"...It was a great game. Homestead just made great shots when it needed to and really good teams do that."
Bay was led by guard Kelin Johnson with 20 points while Connor Weas had 18 and Joe Sherburne 10. Lazovik praised the efforts of Weas and Grant Menard on mighty Homestead center Luke Worthington (13 points).
Jake Laihinen, who hit three huge three-pointers in the fourth quarter, joined Worthington with 13 points while Sam Kaegi added 12.
Hines knows a win like this can only help the team as it starts preparations for Germantown.
"We've set up our nonconference schedule so that we would get tested," he said. 'We've only stumbled once (against Greater Metro leader Brookfield Central), but playing teams like that can only get us ready for facing the likes of Germantown or whoever we face in the WIAA playoffs."
"I was really proud of the guys tonight. They showed a lot of heart."
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