With about a minute to go in overtime Tuesday night, a fan on the Menomonee Falls side of the Homestead Fieldhouse rubbed his hands eagerly and said:
'It's a man's game now, no little kids allowed!"
And that thought was the correct one this evening, as in a high-profile nonconference boys basketball game with WIAA sectional seeding implications, Homestead got two free throws with 5.5 seconds to go from guard LaMonte' Bearden to pull off a thrilling, 71-69 overtime decision over the Indians.
In doing so, the Highlanders improved to 16-2 overall whiile Falls, which had won five in a row and eight of its last 11 (nine of 11 without a forfeit), fell to 9-8.
A game like this late in the season is just all part of the plan, according to Highlander coach Marquis Hines.
"In summer we talked about getting a tougher nonconference schedule and then going out and winning a few of those games," he said, "and we have. The seeding meeting (for the WIAA sectional bracket) is Feb. 18 and this is a huge win as far as that is concerned."
Both Homestead and Falls are in the same sectional.
And as far as the Indians are concerned, they are light years away from where they were mentally the last time they were in the Homestead Fieldhouse, which was in mid-December, when they were smashed by unbeaten and number one ranked Germantown.
"This team has a different swagger now," said Falls coach Dan Leffel. "We keep battling back. We have enough guys to make plays now. I don't think we would have come this close in a game like this in December. We would have simply tried too hard. Tried to do too much too soon."
To no one's surprise, a large section of the Germantown starting line-up as well as the coaching staff (plus that of Homestead's North shore rival Whitefish Bay) were in attendance tonight.
Amd what they saw was a roller-coaster ride of a game with each team, at different portions of the game, showing calm and poise and then alternating that with a little panic and indecision at times.
But men stepped up from each squad when needed. Falls, which battled back from nine, 11 and eight-point deficits through the first three quarters, found theirs in both senior guard C.J. Malone (29 points) and their all-state superstar J.P. Tokoto (27).
Homestead had theirs come from a variety of corners, including junior guard James Reilly, who took a pass from point guard Joe Binyoti on the far left wing late in regulation and then calmly stroked an NBA-range three-pointer with just 2.2 seconds remaining to give the Highlanders a 64-61 lead.
'We had a pick and pop play that we run in those kinds of situations," said Reilly. "The play broke down a little, so I just let it fly. It felt good when it left my hands."
But Falls quickly silenced the bedlam as forward Devon Nauer calmly threw a three-quarters length of the court pass to Tokoto, who had fought foul trouble all through the second half.
Tokoto calmly took the pass inside the three-point arc, knowingly stepped back outside it and then swished a tieing three-pointer as the buzzer sounded.
"Only an athlete of J.P.'s ability can make a play like that," said Leffel. "He stepped up in a tough situation, rose and fired."
"That was my fault," said Hines. "I could have kicked myself. I put Luke (6-8 center Worthington) on the ball thinking we could bother the pass, when I actually should have had him on J.P. (who is 6-6 and can jump to the moon). ... But J.P.'s such a great player, the greatest in the state, he may have made that play anyway."
And then with the Falls side jumping up and down in excitement with all the momentum, Hines had to ask his young men during the break between the fourth quarter and the overtime whether they could weather this storm.
"And they looked me in the eye and told me it was all good," he said.
It almost wasn't.
Tokoto hit a jumper from the wing to give Falls the immediate lead in the overtime, but then Reilly struck again with another three-pointer to make it 67-66 with 3:12 left in the extra session.
And when Cody Berger hit a shot in the lane, it was 69-66 Homestead.
"It was a great game," said Reilly. "Anytime you get to play a guy like J.P. it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. ...A game like this can only be a confidence booster."
Still, Falls wasn't done. Homestead stumbled and committed turnovers on its next few possessions and eventually Falls got a free throw from center Ryan Bross and another hoop from Tokoto with 2:02 left to tie it al 69-all.
But those would be the last points of the night for the Indians.
Falls missed a late chance at taking the lead when two free throws were off the mark.
Homestead then got the ball back with 31 seconds to go and after a time-out, did what they had done in previous situations, ran clock with Binyoti and Bearden alternating possession.
Bearden finally driove and was fouled with 5.5 seconds left. Unlike a similar drama-filled situation earlier in the season when he hit the second of two free throws to secure a win over Bay, he calmly swished both throws to make it 71-69 Homestead.
'We try to run LaMonte' at the point, but he wants to be a two-guard," said Hines. "It all works out because he and Binyoti compliment each other so well. He (Bearden) finds his way back to the basket with the ball in his hands everytime."
Falls then ran a different play and put the ball in Tokoto's hands again. He got well into the forecourt but was still a long ways away when he launched a shot that was just off the mark.
"This experience will make us stronger," said Leffel, "and get us ready for the playoffs. This shows we can play with a lot of good teams in the area. I'll be glad to take a loss like this, if it'll mean a great win sometime in the playoffs."
Brandon Ramey added eight points for Falls.
Hines was just happy to get another win from his at times erratic team, which also got 11 each from Bearden and Worthington.
"We always talk about never knowing what we'll get out of these guys," he said. "We get leads, but we never keep them. It always seems to be a new ballgame with us."
"...but this is a momentum booster. I firmly believe we can win the remainder of our games, including Germantown (which blew the Highlanders out a few weeks ago). But that's just the believer in me. The competitor."
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