The final few minutes of Nicolet’s 55-53 victory over Messmer in the first round of the WIAA boys basketball Division 2 basketball playoffs on Tuesday night were electric.
Trailing 44-34 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Bishops had battled their way back into contention and brought themselves to within one point on a three-point shot from Jonathan Carson, who finished with 16 points. Nicolet failed to convert several subsequent free-throw attempts, giving Messmer the opportunity to tie the game with just a few seconds left on the clock. Fortunately for the Knights, none of the Messmer players on the court could finish the crucial layup that would have sent the game into overtime. No one watching the fourth quarter could have guessed how the game had started, however.
The Knights absolutely flew out of the starting gates, and by the end of the first quarter, had taken a 19-6 lead.
“We had energy,” said Nicolet’s Corey Smith. “We have to want it and in order to win, we have to have a great start. At the start of the season, we were struggling. We were only scoring eight points in the first quarter. In order to win, we have to win every quarter.”
The Knights had already jumped out to a 9-2 lead when Smith scored an old fashioned three-point play. Nicolet also implemented full court pressure that Messmer simply could not handle. Had it not been for Christopher Letherwood’s steal and layup with under 10 seconds to go in the first, Messmer’s only points of the quarter would have come from four of its seven free-throw attempts.
Not long into the second quarter, the Bishops finally started sinking their layups, and Alex Matthews contributed with two 3-point shots.
“I don’t change anything; I let my kids play," said Messmer coach Alan Vance. "They’re the ones who play and they’re the ones who work everything out. We got a couple of big baskets, but we missed a lot of foul shots. Otherwise, we could’ve won the ballgame."
Slowly but surely, the Bishops chipped away at Nicolet's 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, but their initial deficit was just a tad too much to overcome, and the Knights were able to weather the storm.
“Our guys really focused during the game,” said the Knights coach Paul Hepp. “We played well last week against (Whitefish) Bay and we wanted to carry that over and prove that it wasn’t a fluke. You’ve got to give them credit. You don’t win 19 games by accident. You knew that they weren’t going to give up.”
When asked how his team managed to stay disciplined enough for the victory, Corey Smith said, “It’s practice, practice, practice. I think we’ve been working so hard, and if we play together and we play as a team, we win.”
The Knights will move on to play third seeded and defending Division 2 state champions Whitefish Bay at 7 p.m. Friday. They will hope for a second win over the Blue Dukes in as many weeks.
“We have a lot of confidence,” said Smith. “We have a good win streak going on so we need to keep it up.”
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