Wisconsin Lutheran is hardly lacking in the strength-of-schedule department.
The Division 2 Vikings started the boys basketball season with losses to defending Division 1 state champion Arrowhead and perennial powerhouse Milwaukee King.
Since the loss to the Generals on Dec. 4, Lutheran (12-2) has been on a roll with wins over teams such as Wauwatosa East, Milwaukee Washington and Waukesha West. The Vikings won their 12th game in a row Tuesday night, a 55-46 victory over Nicolet (9-5), just another solid non-conference Division 1 team on the brutal schedule.
"One of the things we've tried to do is make the toughest schedule possible of any team in the state to challenge our guys and help them understand that we always want to play the best teams, and see how we compete and where we're at," Vikings coach Ryan Walz said. "It's not where we are right now. It's where we're going to be at the end of the year."
Added senior guard Terry Nash: "Nobody wants to play in the little games. We all want to play in the big games. We want to see where we're at. We're excited to play in these big games. These games are really testing us, and we're showing our abilities."
In the first half, the game didn't look much like a test. The Knights' offense arrived a little late, and the host Vikings didn't allow many open looks. Nicolet managed just five field goals in the first two quarters, resulting in a 31-14 lead by Wisconsin Lutheran.
The game changed drastically in the second half. A 20-7 run by Nicolet in the late third and early fourth quarters pulled the Knights even. A pair of free throws by junior guard Corey Smith, who scored the first six points of the fourth quarter, tied the game, 44-44, with 5 minutes 1 second left.
Nicolet tied the score twice but never led. A pivotal three-pointer by Vikings senior guard Josh Lindner from the left wing gave Lutheran a 49-46 cushion with 2:55 left. Nash, who led all scorers with 29 points, made four free throws in the final 2 minutes.
"In the first half we played on our heels," Nicolet coach Paul Hepp said. "At halftime we realized what we had to do to be successful and attacked the basket. In last 2 minutes we stopped doing that again.
"In reality I think we ran the offense for 14 out of 32 minutes, and we still had a chance to win. (Lutheran is) very well-coached and has a lot of great athletes."
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