WEST SALEM — When Carson Koepnick buried a 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds on the clock, the West Salem High School boys basketball team had a pulse after trailing by as many as 19 points midway through the second half.
The Panthers put together a series of runs at Onalaska Luther on Monday and turned an eight-point deficit into a 22-point Coulee Conference victory that gave them sole possession of first place.
Four days later, West Salem was trying to pull off a repeat performance, but the Knights stood their ground by making four free throws in the final 8.6 seconds to hold off the Panthers 65-58 on Friday.
"We have to get better at closing out games," Luther senior James Biedenbender said, "but we got it done today."
Biedenbender made four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 20 points for the Knights (11-1, 7-1), who took over first place and lead second-place West Salem (7-2, 6-1) by a half-game.
But the Panthers faced a 44-25 deficit with about 14 minutes left before putting a scare into the Knights. West Salem pieced together its comeback with an aggressive defense and better shooting than it produced in the first half.
"I'll tell you this," Luther coach Brad Schaper said. "That's probably the most physical team we have played all year long. Up and down the lineup, every kid on that roster plays his heart out.
"They bumped us deep in our offense, and when they bumped us deep into our offense, we didn't get good looks anymore. Credit the way they played defensively for that."
A 16-4 run that included one 3-pointer each from Brett McConkey and Zack Niemeier and three-point plays by Kodi Miller and Peter Lattos made up the bulk of it.
Niemeier's 3, which was set up by a pass from Miller, had West Salem within 48-41 just four minutes later.
Biedenbender answered with his two final baskets. His 3-pointer off a tip that went right to him in the left corner gave the Knights a 53-41 lead, and his basket in the lane made it 57-46.
"He's been so consistent this year for us," Schaper said of Biedenbender, who made 8 of 12 shots and was 4-for-6 from the 3-point line. "He's a great leader, and I'm not surprised by what he did tonight or by what he's done for us this season."
West Salem junior CJ McConkey, who missed about seven minutes of the first half after picking up his second foul less than eight minutes in, then scored six of his team-high 16 in a span of two minutes. He converted a pass from Lattos to get the Panthers within 60-55 with 35.6 seconds on the clock.
Isaiah Loersch with quickly fouled and made one of two free throws on a double bonus before Koepnick's 3 made it 61-58. Koepnick scored eight points for West Salem, which could only foul and watch the Knights make free throws the rest of the way.
Niemeier, Miller, Brett McConkey and Koepnick each had a steal as the Panthers reeled the Knights in.
Sophomore Isaiah Schwichtenberg and freshman Logan Bahr each made two free throws after Koepnick's 3 for Luther.
Lattos added 13 points for the Panthers and Lyndon Byus 12 points and eight assists for the Knights. Loersch finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds for Luther, which shot 53 percent form the floor.
"This was a tough one, and they are all pretty dejected in there," West Salem coach Steve Kastenschmidt said of his players. "I thought the kids worked really hard and battled back. That 3 had us within three with a few seconds left, but we had to foul, and they made free throws.
"This is a young team, and they will learn from this experience."
There is some time for that but not a lot. The Panthers and Knights are roughly two weeks away from the postseason, and both have to be prepared for tough playoff paths."
"As far as what's happening in conference, yes, we needed this to keep pace," Schaper said. "Right now is also time to get ready for the playoffs, and we want to keep playing good basketball for that."
Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX