The light went on for the Nicolet boys basketball team in the second quarter Friday night in the Knights' WIAA Division 2 regional semifinal against host Brown Deer and it never went off, as they went on a 24-9 tear to break open a close game and never look back in an 81-56 decision.
"It was one of those things that in a coach's mind goes 'Better late than never.'" noted Nicolet coach Paul Hepp. "We wanted to outwork our opponent for all four quarters and we did it this night. We did all the little things that we knew we could do."
Then he said the obvious:
"...That quarter may have been our best of the season."
With the win, the Knights (15-9) advance to a WIAA Division 2 regional final on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Marquette against North Shore rival Whitefish Bay (15-8), which was a 65-41 winner over Milwaukee Messmer Friday night. The two teams have split this season, but the Knights are still sore about the 70-41 pasting Bay handed them back on Jan. 28.
"It's a new day, a new game tommorrow," said Hepp.
Like it was in the second quarter Friday night. Nicolet's Tyler Miller hit a put back with two seconds remaining in the first period to give the Knights a 14-12 lead. They would never trail again, as they hit the Falcons (14-9) with an 11-2 run to start the second quarter. Four different players scored, as Nicolet crashed the boards, hit the open man and ran the break.
Brown Deer momentarily righted the ship with a 5-2 effort highlighted by Jamon Jackson-Wilson's fastbreak lay-up, but after cutting the margin to 27-19, the Falcons saw the Knights go on a 9-0 sprint to pull away again. Nicolet senior forward Christian Griggs-Williams (game-high 22 points) scored the first six points of the effort and Corey Smith capped it with an old-fashioned three-point play.
"They hit us in the mouth and we never really recovered from it," said Brown Deer co-coach Andy Bauschelt. "Every point of emphasis we were trying to teach we got away from. We needed to box out and they still got second and third chances and we didn't move without the ball well enough. But the rebounding, that was the big thing."
Nicolet would hit 11 of 17 shots in the second quarter in taking a 38-21 lead into the break as the Falcons hurt themselves with one of 12 three-point shooting and two of 10 free throws in the first half.
In the second half, the Nicolet advantage would never dip below 15 points.
Griggs-Williams, whose team has now won two in a row after a disappointing regular season closing loss to Cedarburg last Friday, said the Knights have turned a new leaf.
"We just started being more intense," he said. "We started hustling, playing better defense. I think we're starting peaking at the right time."
Griggs-Williams was one of five Knights in double figures as Smith had 17, Miller 12 and Terrance Salter and Raheem Lemons 10 apiece while Jackson-Wilson led Brown Deer with 16 as Keone Moore had 13 and Joziah Mallett 11 for the Falcons.
Hepp was impressed with the defensive effort.
"We knew that that had been off for nine days off and so they might be a little cold," he said. "We were able to get a hand in their face several times too which helped. Overall, I'll take holding them to 21 points in the first half any day." He also praised point guard Salter for his nice floor game.
"This was a tough way to go out (end the season)," said Bauschelt. "At home, in front of a good crowd. But they're a nice team and they play good team basketball. They move the ball and find the open man."
Griggs-Williams sees it as a good first step.
"Against Cedarburg we fell off right at the end," he said, "but now this is the playoffs. Everybody's 0-0 so we're looking to do good things."