Germantown point guard Lamonte Bearden got to the foul line a lot Thursday night in the Warhawks' regular season closer basketball game against Homestead, but was indifferent in his results, hitting just 12 of 20 for the game.
But he saved his best effort at the line for last, as he calmly drained two throws with 2.7 seconds left in a tie game to give Germantown the lead. And when the Highlanders' desperation heave from Jack Popp was off the mark, Germantown had completed its fourth straight unbeaten run through the North Shore Conference, 58-56.
"He's probably a career 80 percent free throw shooter," said coach Steve Showalter of Bearden. "He was far from that tonight, but he hit the big ones though."
With the victory, the Warhawks finished the regular season at 14-0 in league play and 20-2 overall. They have now won 59 North Shore Conference games in a row dating back to 2010 and now have won an even 100 games over the last four seasons combined.
"These things are something all the guys can be proud of," said Showalter. "We as a staff are proud of them. Our first goal (every season) is to work hard and win conference."
Germantown earned the top seed in its half of the WIAA Division 1 Ashwaubenon bracket and will await the winner of Waukesha South and Hartford in a home regional final game on Friday, Feb. 28.
The Warhawks could meet Homestead again in a sectional semifinal on March 6.
Its been a long road for the Warhawks the last month-and-a-half, with their aura of invincibility worn off due to losses to Brookfield Central and Wisconsin Lutheran and with the stain of the suspensions of four players due to alleged drug possession after a traffic stop.
The players, who have since returned, included Bearden, his brother Brian and top reserve Dearionte Hudson.
Lamonte and Brian Bearden, normally starters, have come off the bench since returning from their suspensions and Showalter admits that there have been a lot of long talks, a lot of laps run and a lot of advice sought.
But he's pleased with where the team is as it heads into the tournament.
"We're in a better place than we could have been," he said, "and there are things in front of us that we can still achieve if we do what we're supposed to do. The sky's the limit.
"If not, anything can happen."
Homestead, meanwhile, fell to 10-3 in North Shore play and 17-4 overall. While he praised Germantown for its "relentlessness and its intensity", coach Kevin McKenna, to put it bluntly, felt the officials missed a good game.
"What did I see?," he said, minutes after the conclusion. "I saw two refs who were incompetent. Imagine if this were the state title game. Can you imagine that? They were bad both ways. ...We would have been better off playing with nobody (officiating the game)."
Showalter said the game was very physical and that even more fouls could have been called.
"They do push and grab and shove a lot," he said of Homestead. Germantown shot 15 of 27 from the foul line and Homestead 10 of 13 in the game played at the Highlander Fieldhouse.
Regardless of one's opinion of the refs, the Highlanders had a hard time staying with either Bearden all night as Lamonte drove the lane at will while Brian was around the basket all the time one way or another.
Brian had a critical steal and lay-up with three seconds left in the third quarter to make it 44-43 Germantown going into the fourth. The Warhawks would never trail again.
Germantown opened the fourth quarter with a 7-2 run to expand the lead to 51-45 with 5:48 left.
Homestead closed the gap to 51-47 with 5:30 left on a Luke Mueller shot, but then Brian Bearden turned in a three-point play off a steal to make it 54-47 with 4:42 to go.
"We just had a hard time keeping Brian off the glass (and away from the basket)," said McKenna. "You've got to do little things like that (if you want to be successful)."
Homestead buckled down on defense after that and held the Warhawks scoreless for over three minutes, but all the Highlanders could do was close the gap to 54-52.
With the gap at two, the Highlanders missed a front end of the bonus and two shots. In addition, Mueller, who would lead them in scoring with 14 points, would foul out with 2:04 to go.
Lamonte Bearden then got back to the foul line with 58 seconds to go and broke the Warhawk drought with two charity tosses to make it 56-52, but then the Highlanders' Fred Eason hit a lay-up and after a Germantown turnover, Popp tied it up on a drive with 25 seconds to go.
Germantown took the ball up without a time-out and eventually the ball got into Lamonte Bearden's hands. He made a drive from the right side and was fouled with 2.7 seconds left setting up the decisive free throws.
"The original idea when we had a two-point lead (before the turnover) was to not let them score," said Showalter, "but after they did, we decided to go right away and see if we could get something before they set up, but they hustled back on defense.
"Lamonte then decided to keep the ball and we let him go because's he's been there before."
McKenna was not surprised that the Warhawks didn't call a timeout down the stretch.
"They're a veteran team and we know that they would try and get into something right away," he said. He did not agree with the foul call.
"...We left it in the hands of the officials, which is something we could not do," McKenna added.
Jerrod Walton and Jaylen Key had 11 points apiece for Homestead and Popp 10.
Lamonte Bearden would finish with 22, including a buzzer-beater of a banked-in 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter to make it 20-17 Germantown, while Brian Bearden had 19. The Warhawks won despite starters Wesenberg, Jon Averkamp and Jake Showalter combining for just 13 points on the night.
"They always seemed to hit a big shot and we could never get comfortable," said Coach Showalter. "We're a pretty good team. For them to hold us to 58 points is quite an accomplishment. We want to run and score and they want to hold it down.
"...Now we're talking a new season."
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