Brookfield Central boys basketball coach Dan Wandrey knows his Greater Metro Conference-leading team is talented, but he also knows it's young and has to grow up some yet before it can achieve all the things it thinks it can.

Like it did in a dramatic and entertaining 78-75 Greater Metro Conference first-place showdown victory over Menomonee Falls on Friday, Jan. 20, before a noisy Lancer gym.

Sophomore guard Gage Malensek was one of those who grew up in a big way, as with the Lancers desperately holding off an intense Indian comeback late in the game, he went 6-for-6 from the foul line in the final 1:33, including two that stretched the lead to 75-72 with 44 seconds left and another pair with just 10.5 seconds to go to make it 78-75.

All told, Malensek was an impressive 11-of-12 from the line for the game.

Wandrey said the time for hand-holding for the young Lancers was over. That realization came in a blunt-force way last week with a difficult win over Sussex Hamilton and their first loss of the season to rival East. He was pleased to see Malensek and the rest of the team could handle the pressure after that setback.

"Those last four free throws that he hit were as pressure-packed as you could get," said Wandrey, "but he (Malensek) just stepped up there with confidence and nailed them ... we've been talking about this all year, that they need to prepare themselves (mentally). The coaches can't do it all the time with guilt trips ... they have to do by themselves."

"This was a great bounceback week."

Malensek was pleased he and his teammates found some of that inner resolve this night.

Lancers 6-1 in GMC

"It's really an honor that the team trusts me enough (to hit big free throws at the end of games)," he said. "They believe in me, and everyone tells me just go up there and do it. They tell me, 'We know you got it.'"

The win lifted the Lancers, who also beat Wisconsin Lutheran in a tough nonconference game on Jan. 17, to 6-1 in league play and 12-1 overall, while Falls fell into a tie for second with Brookfield East at 5-2 and 11-4 overall.

Falls, which roared out to a 23-9 lead only to have the hot-shooting Lancers completely erase the advantage and take a 43-33 lead at the break, had to rally from down 64-47 with 10:32 just to make the game as close as it was.

Coach Steve Showalter was proud of the effort but noted there were several things the Indians could have done to help themselves.

"It was an interesting game," he said. "They dug a hole for themselves, and then they fight back. We dig a hole, and then we fight back. I was pleased that we were able to come back, but we missed some tough free throws at the end (10-of-18 for the game), and we just put them on the line way too much (21-29). They were able to go to the foul line (and score) while we were having to fight for everything we got. That's just no way to win a game."

But the Indians almost did. The Lancers closed the first half with a 17-2 run to take that 43-33 halftime advantage. Then they began the second half by hitting 8 of their first 11 shots from the field. A 3-pointer by sophomore Cole Nau made it 64-47 with 10:32 left, and it looked like the Lancers were going to coast home with an impressive win.

Falls, however, had other ideas.

Tough prep

Wandrey noted the Indians are very tough to prepare for.

"They press, and they push, and they bring in new guys in waves," he said. "That's sometimes hard to deal with."

And that's how Falls got back into the game, as the Indians went on a 13-0 run to close the gap to 65-60 with 6:23 to go.

They also got a big lift from junior guard Payton Malone. He had seven 3-pointers in the game, including two in the rally. His shot from the wing made it 68-67 Central with 4:57 left.

"He's a young guy who comes off the bench. He's been hurt a lot so far," Showalter said, "but we all know he can shoot."

From that point on, the Lancers were just hanging on for dear life, as Malone hit another 3 with 1:49 to go to cut the margin to 71-70.

That's when Malensek stepped to the line to hit his first pair of key free throws to make it 73-70.

But a critical sequence with about 1:13 hurt the Indians' chances greatly. Nate Schuster hit the first free throw to make it 73-71. He missed the second, but Falls got the rebound and then Jalen Dixon was fouled. He hit the first free throw to make it 73-72 with 1:10 left. He missed the second, but Falls got the rebound again. Two more free throws were missed, however, and the Lancers were eventually able to clear the rebound.

Malensek then hit another pair of free throws with 44 seconds left, and after another Falls miss, senior Chris Post hit one of two tosses to make it 76-72 Central with 31 seconds left.

But Falls' Justin Gruber hit a free throw, and Schuster got a bucket to make it 76-75 with 13 seconds left.

Malensek stepped to the line one more time, though, and coolly gave the Lancers their eventual margin of victory.

Central played good defense on the final sequence, as Falls' last 3-point attempt was well off the mark.

Malone would lead all scorers with 23 points, while Schuster added 17, Gruber 9 and Dixon and Jaden Champion 7 each. Central did a stout job of defending Falls post Matt Henningsen, who had just 6 points.

Fouls abound

"Fouls, fouls, fouls," Showalter said. "If we foul, we can't run and do the things we do well, but we still possibly have a chance at a conference championship, which is our first goal. We just need to fight our way back into the race."

Central, meanwhile, was incredibly balanced, as Nau led the way with 19 points, Andres Peralta-Werns had 16, Malensek and Post 13 each and Sam Rohde 12.

Wandrey was glad the Lancers were able to pass such a tough test.

"It was a great environment, a great game," he said. "... This had a great big game feel. We won a lot of games earlier this season that weren't so close, so we could get away with some things (that weren't good), but tonight we were able to battle. We got the last lead, and we held onto it."

Malensek added, "Last week was a great wake-up call for us. We knew had to answer."