Chuckling as he said it, Homestead boys basketball coach Kevin McKenna gave a friendly shout to Whitefish Bay coach Kevin Lazovik during a time-out at the 4:06 mark of the first quarter of the game at Bay Tuesday night.
"First one scores wins," he said.
He might have had a point, the game was still scoreless at that juncture and the two teams would struggle mightily all night under the other's withering defensive pressure.
As it stood, the Highlanders withstood last-second attempts by the Blue Dukes at the end of both regulation and overtime to come up with a less-than-pretty, but oh-so-important 37-35 victory.
"You know what," said McKenna. "Those were two even teams. We knew we would have a battle figuring out their zone and we did. They missed shots, we missed shots. It came down to the last possession."
With the win, the Highlanders improved to 2-0 in North Shore play and 3-0 overall while the short-handed Blue Dukes, who were down three players this game due to violations of team rules, fell to 0-2 in league and 2-3 overall.
For Blue Duke coach Kevin Lazovik, whose team battled two-time defending state champion Germantown to just an eight-point defeat last Friday, it was a tough pill to swallow given the circumstances.
"There are more important lessons to learn than just basketball," he said. "...Still, defensively, I thought we were very good. We talked, we moved well. We did what we needed to do. ...But we didn't look to the post much and we had a chance to win at both the end of regulation and overtime."
Homestead's Jaylen Key finally got that prophetic first bucket at the 3:05 mark of the first quarter and the Highlanders had a 7-3 lead heading into the second period.
A 3-point play by the Highlanders' Fred Eason with seven seconds left in the second tied the score at 13-all heading into the half.
The lead changed hands six times in the third quarter with Homestead guard Seth Cooley giving the Highlanders a 24-23 advantage heading into the final stanza.
The offensive struggles became magnified in the final 4:26 of regulation as the two teams combined for only five points in that time. A baseline 3-pointer by the Blue Dukes' Jake Casey (10 points) with 1:24 remaining was the final scoring in regulation as it tied the score at 29-all.
After Homestead missed a floater in the lane. Bay then held the ball for the final 56 seconds. After a timeout with 39 seconds remaining, the Blue Dukes tried to get inside against the fierce man pressure of the tall Highlanders (four starters 6-4 or above), but could not and a long 3-point attempt by Joe Sherburne was off the mark.
It was the story of the night for the high-scoring Sherburne, who was limited to four points this night.
"They made it tough on Joe," said Lazovik. "They did a lot of switching and it was hard for him to get a clean look. I have to do a better job of scheming for him."
Homestead's Luke Mueller hit a 3-pointer from the right-wing at the 2:57 mark of overtime and the Highlanders would never trail again. Bay's Miles Sigh (a game-high 17 points) did the best he could to keep the Blue Dukes in the game as he hit a shot in the lane and two free throws.
But the Highlanders, who had trouble hitting free throws earlier in the game, were good as gold from the line in the extra session, as they hit five of six charity tosses. Key and Cooley hit a brace of throws each.
Cooley's pair made it 36-33 with 47 seconds left. With the Highlanders guarding the 3-point line, the Blue Dukes' Casey hit a baseline jumper with 13 seconds left to cut the margin to one.
Key then hit one of two free throws with 8.6 seconds left to make it 37-35. Bay rushed down, but could not get a clean look as an off-balance shot in the lane was off the mark and the ball bounced out of bounds at the buzzer.
"We made up in the overtime for some of the things we didn't do offensively in regulation," said McKenna. '"In the future, we have to do a better job of converting in the paint and in the lane.
"Defensively, I thought we did well. Miles (Sigh) got away from us a little bit, but other than that, we were able to contest their shots.
"We're playing fior first place and this keeps us in the hunt."
Mueller led Homestead with nine points as Jack Popp had eight and Key and Jerrod Walton six apiece.
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