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Matt Johnson’s half-court buzzer-beater lifts Lake Mills over Lakeside Lutheran

January 16, 2019

LAKE MILLS — Lake Mills boys basketball coach Steve Hicklin has a good idea where to look first whenever he is trying to locate Matt Johnson.

The 6-foot-1 Johnson is in the gym, working on his shot.

“He’s a tireless worker,” Hicklin said. “He’s a gym rat. He’s a kid whose confidence comes from the amount of work that he’s put in. That’s what you need as a shooter — those hours in the gym, just you and the basketball and the hoop. And that’s what he’s done.”

With his team trailing by a point and 2.6 seconds remaining, Johnson gathered in a pass and dribbled a step or two across half court and launched what he called the biggest shot of his young life.

It certainly became the shot heard round Lake Mills on Tuesday night.

Johnson’s 3-point shot from just inside midcourt was on target in front of a packed house, going in as time expired and lifting host Lake Mills to a dramatic 70-68 victory over city rival Lakeside Lutheran in a Capitol North Conference meeting between league leaders.

“It’s the greatest moment of my life,” Johnson said.

Johnson said teammate J.T. Toepfer was the first option on the inbound play, but the 6-0 senior was well defended.

“I got open and dribbled up,” Johnson said. “I just trusted myself. I have to have that confidence in myself to know that every shot is going in.

“I’ve had some pretty off-nights shooting-wise, but that can’t affect my confidence. I’m thankful to my teammates when I don’t have that confidence in myself. They always give me that confidence and tell me, ‘Keep shooting, keep shooting.’ I had to let it go.”

And when it descended and went through the basket, Johnson said he hadn’t known a better feeling.

“It went by so fast. I just shot at the rim,” he said. “It’s the greatest moment I’ve had so far. It’s the greatest shot of my career so far — by far.”

Johnson, who made three 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 17 points, was mobbed by teammates and spectators after delivering the winner that propelled the L-Cats (11-3 overall, 3-0 Capitol North) into sole possession of first place.

“He’s a good shooter,” Hicklin said. “I know he has range. I didn’t know he had half-court range on a pull-up (jumper). He shot it with a lot of confidence. … I thought it had a chance. I heard someone in the crowd yell, ‘That’s in,’ and then I got very excited.”

Lakeside Lutheran coach Kirk DeNoyer, whose team entered ranked ninth in Division 3 in The Associated Press poll, watched as Johnson’s shot left the Warriors stunned.

“It looked pretty good,” DeNoyer said. “All of his shots all night looked pretty good when they came out of his hands.”

Lake Mills led most of the game, but had to recover after trailing 60-56. Johnson started a 9-0 run with a successful jump shot and a 3-pointer.

Lakeside Lutheran senior guard Will DeNoyer gave the Warriors (8-3, 2-1) a short-lived 68-67 lead when he drained a jumper from just right of the free throw line with 3.8 seconds remaining.

Prior to that, Johnson made two free throws and gave Lake Mills a 67-66 lead with 17.7 seconds remaining, responding to the 6-1 DeNoyer’s 15-foot jumper with 52 seconds left.

“We were looking to get the ball inside, but we knew they were going to sag in and someone was going to have to hit a shot,” coach DeNoyer said. “Will, being a senior, took two down the stretch. But their scorer hit two even bigger ones.”

Cameron Paske, a 6-7 senior forward, had a game-high 18 points and 13 rebounds for Lakeside Lutheran. DeNoyer, nephew of the Warriors’ coach, scored 15 points and 6-5 senior forward Jack Monis added 12 points.

Toepfer scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half when the L-Cats took a 42-37 lead into halftime. L-Cats junior Mike Herrington had 12 points — 10 in the first half.

Lakeside Lutheran 37 31 — 68

Lake Mills 42 28 — 70

LAKESIDE LUTHERAN — W. DeNoyer 5 3-4 15, Kuepers 3 1-2 7, Jegerlehner 2 0-0 6, Davis 2 0-0 6, Schneider 2 0-0 4, Paske 8 0-2 18, Monis 4 4-6 12, Raymond 0 0-0 0, Miller 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 8-14 68.

LAKE MILLS — Herrington 5 0-0 12, Toepfer 4 6-8 15, Stoddard 2 2-2 8, Retrum 1 0-0 2, Moen 3 0-1 7, Bender 3 2-2 9, Johnson 6 2-2 17. Totals 24 12-15 70.

3-point goals — LL 8 (W. DeNoyer 2, Jegerlehner 2, Davis 2, Paske 2); LM 10 (Johnson 3, Herrington 2, Stoddard 2, Toepfer 1, Moen 1, Bender 1). Total fouls — LL 15; 11.

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