In every storied rivalry, every couple of years, there is one game before a big enough and noisy enough crowd that a player rises to the level of legend, someone who lifts their team past all obstacles and onto victory.
And in the case of the visiting Menomonee Falls boys basketball team's thrilling 68-63 victory over host Sussex Hamilton on Jan. 15 before a packed and energetic crowd, that person was senior Indian guard Bryce McMurtry, who despite being very ill, scored a season-high 30 points, including a valuable 10-of-10 from the foul line.
'It just went along with his history this year,' said Indian coach Ben Farley, referring to McMurtry's football injuries and the bad fall he took earlier this hoops season, 'but he wanted to go and he guarded their best player, too. He just led us in every way he could. He got big buckets at critical times and hit big free throws, too.
'The best impressive thing about Bryce is that he is never fazed by anything. He's always so poised.'
The win was a bounceback for the Indians, who suffered a disappointing loss to West Allis Central on Jan. 12. They improved to 3-3 in Greater Metro Conference play and a surprising 9-4 overall while the Chargers fell to 3-2 and 10-3, respectively.
'It was disappointing because I don't think (Falls) did anything we weren't prepared for,' Hamilton coach Andy Cerroni said. 'It was just a matter of them making more plays down the stretch. Bryce McMurtry was very good tonight. He hasn't been that good all year. He's a first-team All-Conference player last year and this was probably the first time he played like one all year long. I don't think he missed many shots (9-for-15 from the floor) and he knocked down free throws and played big for them.'
Like many great rivalry games (and this one has had a few over the years, including Falls North's Dave Gross sinking the 12-footer from the foul line with about four seconds to lift the Indians over Dave Thorpe's Chargers in 1975), this one had momentum swings.
Offense was at a premium early on, but the Chargers slowly pulled out to a 19-9 lead with about four minutes left in the half, but Falls made a surge and cut the deficit to 24-23 at the break.
The Indians built on that late surge and took a 10-point lead (45-35) with 9:29 left in game. Hamilton started to come back with consecutive steals that turned into baskets to cut Falls' lead to 45-43. HHS took a charge and tied it (45-45) on a bucket by senior guard Jacob Hartung, who would lead the Chargers with 26 points.
Falls never allowed Hamilton to take the lead, though. McMurtry hit a 3 with 4:26 left to take a 52-47 lead and he would hit 8-of-8 free throws in the last 6:41 of game. Falls would drain 18-of-24 free throws and four 3s for the game and Falls also outrebounded Hamilton, 29-23, as Matt Henningsen had a game-high 10 rebounds.
But the Chargers would not let go.
Down 62-56 with 47 seconds left, Hamilton's Luke Semb made a 3 to make it 62-59. With 36 seconds left, the Indians' Justin Gruber made one of two free throws, but then Semb hit another 3 to make it 63-62, Falls. In the double bonus with 19 seconds left, Falls' Jerin Frey made the second free throw right before Hamilton's Zach Jasinski also made one of two tosses as the Indians clung to a 64-63 lead.
Gruber made another free throw to make it 65-63, Falls, with about 12 seconds to go. The rebound for the second free throw bounced off a Hamilton player's hands and Falls got the ball back and another free throw was cashed to improve the lead to 66-63. Eventually, McMurtry clinched the win with his final two free throws.
'It would have been nice to hit a few more free throws,' said Farley, 'but we knocked down enough. I was proud of the kids because it was a really good game. It had a little bit of everything and it was still a one-possession game late.'
McMurtry also added two 3-pointers as he got help from Jaden Champion with 13 and Gruber with nine. Hartung got help from Semb, who chipped in with 15.
'Our runs were not as long; their runs were a little longer,' Cerroni said. 'We had a couple runs, but they had a couple runs that were a little longer than ours. We needed to sustain a little bit and we didn't. We gave up too many baskets in transition and too many straight-line drives to the basket late in the game.'
Farley thinks the Indians learned an important lesson with the loss to Central.
'We didn't shoot well and we didn't execute well,' he said. 'We had a real lack of energy. I was really proud of the way they responded tonight. It was just a really cool experience to be a part of be it as a player, coach or fan.'
Especially since it was against a team everyone looks forward to playing.
'Even though you don't like getting too high or too low, it's always nice to beat the crosstown rival,' said Farley. 'It made for a really happy locker room.'