On the one hand, it was a signature win for the defending WIAA State D2 champion Whitefish Bay boys basketball team Friday night, full of intense defense and timely buckets.
On the other hand, it was a signature failure by Homestead, which had a chance to go into next Thursday's regular season finale with undefeated Germantown still with a chance at a share of the North Shore Conference title.
Instead the Highlanders now find themselves in a fight just to stay alone in second in the NSC after turning the ball over in droves and clanging free throws by the score.
In short, the physical, basket-defying 45-31 victory for the Blue Dukes was one strange way for both teams to go into Saturday's WIAA sectional seeding meetings.
"We needed that," said Blue Duke coach Kevin Lazovik. "We've been working hard in practice. Good intense work on our defensive assignments. We did a great job of fighting through screens and getting after their shooters."
"And I can't say enough the job that Christian (Lane), Joe (Sherburne) and Grant (Menard) did on Luke Worthington (the Highlanders' 6-7 center)."
With the win, the Blue Dukes improved to 10-3 in NSC play and 15-5 overall. They have now won five in a row and seven of their last eight. Meanwhile, Homestead, which needed a win tonight and a victory next Thursday against top-ranked in state Germantown (13-0, 21-0) in order to grab a share of the league championship, fell to 11-2 and 18-3 overall.
Germantown has now won or shared the last three NSC titles.
Both Bay and Homestead have WIAA sectional seeding meetings Saturday. Bay in D2 and Homestead in D1.
To say that Highlander coach Marquis Hines was disappointed in his team's showing was a vast understatement.
"To come out that kind of effort, with that much on the line, was just unbelievable," he said. "We try to tell our guards that we can't live and die by the three (pointer). Good guards (like what Bay has) get up to defend that and when Jake (Laihinen) and James' (Reilly) shots aren't dropping they have to find a way to get loose."
"But we didn't have any of that. We didn't get any penetration and then when we got frustrated, we'd just throw up awkward shots. Lots of awkward shots."
It was that way from the get-go as Bay took a 14-4 lead midway through the first quarter and then never looked back. Sherburne, a sophomore forward, had eight of his 10 points in that run.
It was 18-11 at the quarter and then the two teams played a sluggish second quarter full of turnovers and missed opportunities.
The only points in the final 4:32 of the session for either team were a pair of free throws from Bay junior guard Kelin Johnson, as the Blue Dukes extended their lead to 25-16.
That run was the beginning of a nightmarish offensive skid for the Highlanders, because if fans thought the second quarter was offensively challenged for both squads, observing the third quarter may have caused the good Dr. Naismith to ask for his peach basket back.
Bay didn't score in the period until the 2:39 mark on a drive by Johnson, Meanwhile, after an early basket by Laihinen (his only points of the night), the Highlanders went more than six minutes without finding the hoop. Included in that run were four missed free throws.
Only a three-pointer by Sam Kaegi with two seconds left in the session finally broke the run for Homestead. All told, the Highlanders scored just five points in 12:32 between the second and third quarters.
And still, despite all that, they trailed just 29-21 going into the fourth quarter.
"We both had to be wondering who was going to eventually score," said Lazovik. "It was a real battle of attrition."
For Bay senior guard Will Davis, one of those Blue Duke defenders assigned to seal off the lane, it was a thing of beauty.
"It really keeps us going when we play defense like that and see the other team start to struggle," he said. "It makes us want to work even harder."
Bay built a 12-point lead early in the fourth but thanks to bucket by Worthington and a free throw from LaMonte Bearden, the Highlanders were able to cut it to six at 34-28 with 4:35 remaining, but after forcing a miss on a long Bay possession, the Highlanders committed a costly turnover which was immediately cashed in for a lay-up.
After a blocked shot on the Homestead end, Johnson (game-high 15 points) got another lay-up for Bay to make it 38-28 with 2:28 left.
The lead never fell below eight after that point as Bay would hit eight of 12 free throws in the second half while the Highlanders clanked their way to a four of 14 effort in the second session en route to a six for 18 game from the line.
Worthington led Homestead with seven. Again, Hines could not hide his disappointment.
"We had been playing well, but this kind of game made me think about how we started last season (in Hines' first campaign with the Highlanders)," he said. "We could have made that game meaningful next week (with Germantown). I was just very surprised with the effort that we gave."
Johnson got help from Sherburne as well as from Connor Weas (nine) and Davis with seven.
"It is an important win for us," said Davis. "Nothing matters but what we believe in the lockerroom (in ourselves). Only what happens in there and on the court matters. This win came at the perfect time."
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