Emotions naturally run high for any playoff game, but Oak Creek boys basketball head coach Mike Jossie and star player Terrence Garner must have been experiencing myriad feelings Friday night in a WIAA Division 1 regional semifinal.
That's because Jossie and Garner found themselves up against West Allis Central, where they had started their high school varsity coaching and playing careers.
Jossie coached the Bulldogs for four seasons before moving to Oak Creek and Garner played his freshman season at Central before choosing to follow his coach to his new school.
Together, they helped the Knights post 12 victories in 2012-13 for their first winning season in seven years.
Now, however, they had to face the Bulldogs in the regional game for the right to move on in the tournament.
Game was tight
That was the setting for an emotionally-charged night for both teams, which was made even more intense when the game went right down to the wire.
Central guard Brandon Key finally decided things when he drove the lane and banked in a short shot that put the Bulldogs up 34-33 with 7.1 seconds left. The Knights then had a 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the back rim.
Thus, the Bulldogs improved to 10-13 and went on to a regional championship game, which they lost 89-72 to Milwaukee Hamilton on Saturday. The Knights finished at 12-11.
After the game, Jossie and Garner reflected on what the night meant to them.
'When you spend four years like I did there (at Central), and to try to build that program, much the same as here (Oak Creek), with the challenges I had to go through, Central is a special place for me,' Jossie said. 'I know I left, but I'm very proud of what we did in my time there, and I'm happy for them (the Bulldogs).
'What that school did for me, what the parents did for me, and the administration … I'm just appreciative. They gave me my first chance at being a basketball coach. If (district administrator) Kurt Wachholz wouldn't have done what he did for me, I wouldn't be a varsity basketball coach.'
Jossie moves on
Although Central will always be in his heart, Jossie has turned the page.
'(Central) gave me a chance, and I'll be forever grateful,' he continued, 'but I'm at Oak Creek now, and I'm extremely proud of the kids. It wasn't Coach Jossie and Terrence Garner against West Allis Central; it was Oak Creek against West Allis Central to play another day. Unfortunately, we don't get a chance to play another day.'
Garner, who tallied 10 points in the game, held a similar view.
'At first, I was a little nervous,' he said, 'but as it kept getting closer to game time, the adrenaline started to kick in and I was getting really excited to play. Not only was it a playoff game, but it was against my old school. I wanted to win the game badly.
'Once tip-off happened and we started to get into the flow of the game, it really just felt like another game. We as a team played hard and gave it our all. Unfortunately, we came up short, so it was a very tough night for not only me and my coach, but for the team.'
The game itself provided a study in contrast between Central's up-tempo game and the Knights' more deliberate approach.
Knights controlled tempo
It was advantage Oak Creek, as the Knights led 16-12 at the half. At that point, Key had two fouls and no points.
'The tempo was too slow for me,' Key said. 'I like playing fast, and I had to adjust.'
Central head coach Dave Mlachnik had a few words for his sophomore star at the half.
'He was kind of frustrated that first half,' Mlachnik said. 'I told Brandon, 'this is a game where you have to be mentally tough. Be patient; understand that you're not going to get a lot of touches or opportunities. Don't try to do too much; just let the game come to you.'
Key took the advice to heart, then took over the game.
He totaled 15 points in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter and the Bulldogs' final nine points.
His free throw put Central up 20-19 in the third period, but Alex Medenwaldt, who led Oak Creek with 16 points, nailed a 3-pointer to close the quarter at 22-20 for the Knights.
Key opened the fourth period by stealing the ball and driving for a three-point play.
Another driving shot by Key put Central up 27-24, but Garner answered with a 3-pointer to tie it. Back-to-back baskets from Medenwaldt gave Oak Creek a 31-29 lead with two minutes left. Then Key drove for another three-point play to give the Bulldogs the lead back at 32-31.
Medenwaldt hit two free throws with 18.6 seconds left as the Knights took a 33-32 advantage, then Key once again drove the lane and hit his difficult banker for a 34-33 Central advantage, and that stood up for the victory.
Key came through
'We knew he was a special player,' Jossie said, 'and he made a tough shot. It was well-defended and a banked-in floater.'
After that, the emotions came out one more time when he added, 'I'm sad that I don't get to see these kids Saturday morning like we planned. It's sad that I don't get to coach Terrence anymore, but I'll be with him, along with these other seniors.'
THE ROAD ENDS
The West Allis Central boys went on to lose to top seed Milwaukee Hamilton, 89-72, Saturday in a WIAA Division 1 regional title game.
SCORERS: Brandon Key led the Bulldogs with 12 points, while Ron Turkvan put in 11, Jerome Cummings 10 and Ezekiel Martin nine. Hamilton's Division 1 recruit, Kevon Looney, poured in 43 points.
BIG SECOND HALF: Hamilton pulled away from a 31-30 halftime lead with 58 second-half points
FREE THROWS: Looney hit 16 of 19 at the line and the Wildcats were 33 of 47 overall.
RECORD: The Bulldogs finish at 10-14