Wauwatosa East knew what was at stake and played with the sense of urgency required to pick up a crucial conference win.
The Red Raiders erased the sting of a 19-point loss to Marquette earlier in the week and stayed very much alive in the Greater Metro Conference race by rallying late to force overtime before grabbing control in the extra session to pull out a 67-64 victory over Brookfield East on Jan. 20.
Tosa East (7-6 overall) wrapped up the first half of league play tied with Menomonee Falls for second place at 5-2, one game behind Brookfield Central.
"We told them in the locker room that you just have to dig deep and find it," Tosa East coach Tim Arndorfer said. "We got through the first half at 5-2 and a game out of first. We've beaten Falls and we've lost a close game to Central, so we know we can play with those teams. The nice part about this is you still kind of control your destiny as opposed to trying to rely on other people to help you out."
Trailing, 51-44, with 6:34 to play, Tosa East appeared on its way to its second straight conference defeat. Instead, the Red Raiders turned up the pressure defensively, recording stops and forcing four late miscues by the Spartans.
Mahlik Lindsey drilled a 3-pointer with 3:33 remaining to bring Tosa East to within 53-51. After Thomas Francken scored for Brookfield East, Blake Kratzer converted a 3-point play to make it 55-54 with 2:04 left. Francken answered on the other end, and Patrick Cartier forced a Tosa East turnover, suddenly putting Brookfield East in control, up 57-54.
The Spartans couldn't hold onto the ball, and Holley was fouled with 38.7 seconds remaining. He missed the front end of the bonus, keeping it at 57-54. Brookfield East committed another turnover off the rebound. This time, Tosa East cashed in on the new life, as Lindsey stroked a triple to tie the game at 57-57 with 30.3 seconds to play.
"He's not afraid of any shot," Arndorfer said. "He's got a scorers mentality. He had no fear to pull up for 3. What a big shot."
East gets the ball
Brookfield East was then called for a double dribble just nine seconds after inbounding the ball, giving Tosa East possession with 21.0 seconds left. Jalen Holley inbounded the ball to Kratzer, who took it out near the centerline to let the clock tick down. Graf put pressure on Kratzer, and the ball squirted into the backcourt. Kratzer and the Red Raiders thought Graf got a piece of the ball, but the official disagreed and whistled a backcourt violation with 11.0 seconds showing.
On the ensuing possession, Graf caught the ball on the left wing with 6.5 seconds left and angled his drive to take a pull-up jumper from the free-throw line with 1.5 seconds on the clock. The ball hit the back of the rim and bounced off, sending the game to overtime.
A 3-pointer by Graf put Brookfield East in front, 60-59, with 2:23 left in the extra session. Dane Mikkelson then missed an attempt from beyond the arc, but Elijah Flenorl pulled down the offensive rebound and hit Lindsey for a driving layup to put Tosa East in front, 61-60, with 1:38 remaining.
The Red Raiders then got a stop on the defensive end, and Flenorl hit two free throws to put Tosa East in front, 63-60, with 48.4 seconds left. As the Spartans were bringing the ball up the court, Lindsey poked the ball away and dove on the floor for a steal. Kratzer then hit one of two free throws with 34.9 seconds remaining and hit two more with 25.7 seconds left to put the game away.
"There was a no quit attitude for us," Arndorfer said. "We just needed to turn it up a notch. We were lucky to get it into overtime. They hit a 3-pointer to go up (in overtime), and we responded. In the games we lost, we didn't respond. All night when they made runs, we got right back in the game.
"It is a credit to our guys to find a way to dig deep and gut this one out."
Patrick Cartier scored Brookfield East's first 7 points before being whistled for two fouls in the span of 16 seconds and was forced to the bench for the final 11:37 of the first half. The Spartans struggled to find their offensive rhythm without the junior forward in the game, making just five field goals over the last 12:42 of the half.
"The first 18 minutes was not our best basketball," Brookfield East coach Joe Rux said. "That has been a theme throughout the year, and right now we are in that scenario again. We have to be better out of the gates. We have to consistently play well. Tonight we had no answers; no matter what combination of guys we tried, we weren't able to pick it up in the first half.
"We did a better job in the second half of making those runs, but then we got careless with the basketball. Those two things — the start of the game and taking care of the basketball late — is what we have to address."
Cartier finished with 17 points but did not score over the final 10:57 of regulation and overtime. Tosa East made an adjustment to sink and dig down on Cartier in the post, forcing him to pass the ball out to the perimeter. Graf also scored 17 points for the Spartans, while Francken had 10 points and McGath tallied 9 points.
Holley led the Red Raiders with 17 points and seven rebounds, hitting 7 of his 10 attempts from the field. Flenorl and Lindsey each had 10 points, Mikkelson had 9 points and Kratzer scored 8 points.
"It was a test to our team to see how we could bounce back," Holley said. "We answered the bell."