Zak Krueger’s first and last shots of the second half were eerily similar.
Both were confident mid-range jumpers from right around the free-throw lane after some iso gave the Homestead junior the opportunity to create.
The first shot broke him out of a slump. The last one won his team a share of the SAC title.
Krueger’s pull-up jumper from 16 feet in the closest seconds of the fourth quarter broke a tie and clinched a huge win for the Spartans, 37-34 over Carroll in front of a capacity crowd at the Carroll Fieldhouse that seats just over 3,400.
The shot brought back memories of another heroic moment for the Spartans against the Chargers. Three years ago at Homestead, Tahj Curry dribbled down the seconds in a tie game late in the fourth, much like Krueger on Friday. Curry created off the dribble and drained a three at the buzzer to give the Spartans the 60-57 victory.
One year ago in the SAC Holiday Tournament, Sam Buck’s rejection of a Riley Perlich three-point shot in the final seconds secured a 40-38 victory for Homestead over the Chargers.
This time it was Krueger, who was 0-of-6 from the field and was held scoreless in the first half. On the first Homestead possession of the second half, Krueger decided to end his drought pretty quick, draining a 10-foot jumper in the lane.
That shot got him going.
“My teammates in the locker room at halftime were telling me to keep my head up and I listened to them,” Krueger said. “I came out and hit a shot right away.
“That shot felt good. Right after that I got a back-door layup and I knew I was back to normal.”
While Krueger felt good in the second half, his teammates were struggling to score. Luke Goode was uncharacteristically off from the perimeter, finishing 0-of-7 from three-point range and just seven points. But a Xavier Overstreet three put Homestead up by one with less than a minute to go.
A power move by David Ejah on the next Carroll possession put the senior at the line. He made one of two, setting up Krueger’s heroics in a tie game.
The junior guard sought the opportunity to be the catalyst that would propel Homestead to its first SAC crown since 2016.
“I looked at (Coach Chris Johnson) and asked if I could get the last-second shot and he let me get it,” said Krueger, who finished with eight points. “I just went from there.”
Homestead’s victory coupled with Bishop Dwenger’s win over Northrop leads to a three-way tie for the SAC title between the Spartans, the Bruins and Carroll. It is the first three-way tie for the league championship since 2013 when Northrop, North Side and Concordia shared the crown.
The Chargers got the best of Homestead last year in the regular season to win its first SAC championship, and a share of the title this year will feel better in the long term, overcoming the sting of Friday’s defeat.
But the night belonged to Krueger, just another in a long line of Homestead heroes in this rivalry.
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