After the frustrating nonconference loss to Marquette on Jan. 16, a stunning fourth defeat in five games for the proud Germantown boys basketball team, the Warhawks had to look in the mirror hard and ask the question: 'Where was this season going?'
The question became even more important as everyone realized senior all-state point guard Juwan McCloud would be out for a time after suffering a hip pointer during the Marquette game after taking a hard charge.
Furthermore, the players, like all the kids in the school, were viewing last week with a mix of anxiety and dread because it was semester exam time.
And furthermore, the Warhawks would have to come back at the end of the week against a testy Milwaukee Lutheran team in a critical North Shore Conference game on Jan. 22.
As it turned out, it appears that the direction of the Warhawks, for the time being, is a positive one, as behind senior forward Max Keefe's career-high 36 points, the team did answer many questions with a 68-58 victory over the Red Knights.
Furthermore, because Germantown got some big-time help from Homestead, which upset league-leading Cedarburg in overtime on Jan. 22, the Warhawks find themselves back in their accustomed NSC position of first, tied with Cedarburg as both teams ended the first round of the conference season at 6-1.
'We played well against a good team, and furthermore, we played well on defense, particularly in the second half,' said Warhawk coach Mark Adams. 'The two things I was most pleased with was that with a significant amount of adversity facing us, we showed that we had a little something inside of us and, secondly, that when we dig in on defense, the difference is just remarkable. That is so big, so huge, when that happens.
'Hopefully the kids will see the long-term benefits of it.'
Adams said that McCloud's status is day to day as the degree of severity of a hip pointer can vary from person to person. No one is rushing anything with McCloud, Adams added.
Germantown had a high-level nonconference game with Wisconsin Lutheran on Tuesday, Jan. 26, and then will host a rapidly improving Nicolet team in a 7:30 p.m. NSC game Jan. 29.
Adams is pleased the Warhawks are suddenly back in control of their own destiny when it comes to conference.
'We were walking out of the locker room (on Jan. 22) when Max got a text and yelled 'Hey, Homestead beat Cedarburg,'' Adams said, 'so that means we're still in control, but we can't afford any hiccups. This should motivate us even further now that we're tied for first.'
Adams said many people had a hand in earning the Lutheran win. The first person he mentioned was senior guard Ryan Mongan, who, because of the Warhawks' lack of depth (Adams said the team is on a seven-man rotation right now), Mongan essentially had to play the whole game at point.
Mongan responded impressively as he finished with 12 points, five assists and three big 3-pointers.
'It was good that we had a whole week to prepare with him,' Adams said, 'so we were able to give him some pretty good preparation. This was by far the most minutes he ever played and by far his best effort and performances.
'I don't think we could have asked anymore. He went way above and beyond.'
And earlier in the week, Adams talked to his veteran posts, senior forwards Keefe and Conner Edmonds, and they too responded.
'I told them that I needed them as captains and leaders to dig down and do even a little more than what they were already doing,' Adams said. 'Conner did a great job of defending and rebounding (also scoring seven points), and though Max had a little trouble with his shot early on, he just kept going.'
And going and going. Despite picking up his third foul early on in the second half, Keefe scored 23 points in the session on nine of 11 shooting from the field
'We kept calling his number,' Adams said, 'because I'm a firm believer if something is working, you keep doing it until the other team stops it and forces you to do something else.'
Lutheran never did.
Keefe also hit six of eight free throws in the game as the Warhawks, who built a 14-point lead midway through the second half, had to hold off a late Red Knights surge. Germantown would hit 19 of 25 free throws as opposed to just two of four for Lutheran.
Adams also praised the efforts of Bryce Thomas, who earned his first start, Kyle Clow, Brad Czarnecki and Blake Kunz.
The defense was the key, said Adams, as the Warhawks held the Red Knights to just 25 points in the second half.
'It wasn't so great in the first half, but ultimately it came to the front in the second,' Adams said. 'We got some steals, and we were able to build the lead.'