LINCOLN — A turnaround season by the Fremont boys basketball team hit a high point Monday.
After winning three games last season, Fremont won its third close contest in four days as the seventh-seeded Tigers edged top-seeded Lincoln Southeast 61-59 in the Heartland Athletic Conference Holiday Tournament championship game at Lincoln Southwest.
“We had one legitimate senior last year. We had to go through some growing pains last year,” Fremont coach Mark Williams said after the Tigers won their first HAC tournament title. “But we’ve worked awfully hard and put a lot of hours in the gym.”
Fremont won its three tournament games by 11 points. The Tigers (5-4) also beat second-seeded Lincoln East in the first round and third-seeded Lincoln Southwest in the semifinals.
“We beat one, two and three to win the conference title. You can’t go through a harder row of games than that,” Williams said.
Lincoln Southeast led by two to start the game and at halftime. But those were the only leads for the Knights.
And Fremont made enough free throws down the stretch to hold off Southeast. The Tigers were 14 of 25 from the line in the fourth quarter, including 9 of 14 in the final 1:14.
Southeast trailed 60-53 with 27 seconds left, but it got back-to-back 3-pointers from Na-Jee Jackson and Trey Beamon to make it 60-59 with nine seconds left.
Fremont’s Jared Knoepfel then made 1 of 2 free throws with 7.4 seconds left. After he missed the second free throw, Southeast pushed the ball up court and got it inside to Clayton Peterson, who came off the bench to score 21 points. But his shot rimmed off and Fremont secured the rebound at the buzzer.
“They got a good look, and I thought it was smart that they didn’t settle for a 3,” Williams said. “He got in good position, but it was challenged. In that situation, that’s all you can ask.”
The key stretch for Fremont was the first three minutes of the second half.
Southeast had grabbed a 26-24 halftime lead when Peterson hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Peterson scored 12 of his 21 points in the final five minutes of the half.
But the Tigers were re-energized, scoring the first 11 points of the third quarter. That run gave Fremont its largest lead at 35-26.
“The start of the half was the killer. That was the backbreaker,” Southeast coach Jeff Smith said. “I think whoever got off to a better start in that half probably had the best chance to win the game, and they did.”
Mitchell Hahn, a 6-foot-7 junior who scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the second half for Fremont, scored eight during the decisive run. He got to the free-throw line twice by taking to the ball to the basket, and then closed the run with a 3-pointer.
“I tried to stay aggressive,” Hahn said. “I was kind of passive in the first half. I saw some openings, and my teammates got me the ball.”
Fremont (5-4) ................. 11 13 13 24—61
Lincoln SE (5-4) ................. 5 21 6 27—59
F: Knoepfel 2-6 6-8 10, Wiegert 0-3 4-9 4, Zentic 2-5 4-6 8, Hahn 4-9 7-13 16, Maier 4-7 0-0 8, Spalding 2-3 4-6 8, Yount 0-1 0-2 0, Cobb 3-3 0-0 7. Totals 17-37 25-44 61.
LSE: Gifford 2-4 0-0 5, Jackson 4-6 3-4 12, Wormley 0-0 0-0 0, Nannen 0-5 2-2 2, Day 6-11 1-3 14, Walker 1-9 0-0 2, Peterson 8-18 2-2 21, Beamon 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 22-57 8-11 59.
3-point goals: F 2-8 (Cobb 1-1, Hahn 1-4, Wiegert 0-3); LSE 7-20 (Peterson 3-7, Gifford 1-1, Jackson 1-2, Beamon 1-2, Day 1-3, Nannen 0-1, Walker 0-4). Fouls: F 17, LSE 30. Fouled out: Maier, Gifford. Turnovers: F 11, LSE 12.
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