Nicolet boys basketball coach Paul Hepp has been looking for a full 32 minutes from his team for most of the season now.
"It seems that we're averaging in the 20s at this point," said Hepp, after a fierce rally against Illinois power Brooks Academy came up short, 59-57, when Cameron Smith's last-second shot was blocked at the buzzer Monday night in the NY2LA Sports Extravaganza held in the Knights gym.
The fiercely contested tilt was the second of three games this evening at Nicolet. It was the second time the Knights had hosted a NY2LA event this season. Hepp said he's good friends with the event's organizer Antonio Curl .
"He wanted to use our facilities and it would have given us another home game," Hepp said. "It's also good for us. He (Curl) always schedules good teams and that gets us ready for conference and (WIAA) tournament games."
In Hepp's eyes, the game may still be going if the official's whistle had blown at the right time.
"The last 10 seconds of the game wasn't taped, so we're still trying to figure out if there was a foul on the (final) play," Hepp said. "It looked like it to us and I would have liked our chances at the line. He (Smith) is a good foul shooter."
Instead, the Knights (9-4) settled in for their third loss in four games after a fast start to the season. They had trailed for a good chunk of the game, ever since a span late in the first quarter, where Nicolet commited three turnovers in a row and the Eagles pulled out to a 20-15 advantage at the end of the period.
The advantage went up to 12 in the second period, as Nicolet, harassed by the long and athletic Eagles, missed its first 11 shots of the session. But two baskets by Christian Griggs-Williams (20 points) and a three-pointer by Myles Henry (15), helped cut the margin to 31-24 at the break.
Nicolet got to within three at one point in the third quarter, but it was still 41-37 Brooks heading into the fourth quarter and it was 57-49 after Eagles' center Kevin Gray (12 points) dumped in a putback at the 2:02 mark.
But the Knights had a lot of fight left. Clem Robinson hit a jumper from the wing and two free throws to make it 57-53 with 1:35 left and after a defensive strip on the other end, Griggs-Williams got a post shot to fall to make it 57-55 with 1:12 remaining.
The place got very noisy when Henry got another steal, fought his way through traffic, gathered his own rebound and put the ball in with 33 seconds left to tie the score at 57-all. It was the first tie since midway through the first quarter.
Brooks eschewed a time-out and put the ball in hands of its Wisconsin recruit and point guard George Marshall, who scored the last of his 12 points on a strong drive to the hoop with 18 seconds remaining to give the Eagles the lead at 59-57.
The Knights called two time-outs in the final 15 seconds, the last one with 10 seconds to go, but the Eagles denied Henry the lane and the ball went over to Smith, who tried an off-balance jumper with just seconds remaining. The block occured and Brooks recovered as time ran out.
The struggle and then the rally reminded Hepp of much of what's been going on for his team the last two weeks.
"When we play like we can, we can go up against virtually anyone," said Hepp, "but the last couple of weeks we've found ways to shoot ourselves in the foot and make it harder on ourselves." Kinlow added 10 for Nicolet.
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