It had been an ugly stretch of games for the Homestead boys basketball team — eight losses in 10 games — but it's over.

The Highlanders found a little push and a little incentive last week as they pulled out two North Shore Conference wins over Nicolet (68-66 in overtime) on Feb. 10 and Port Washington (69-51) on Feb. 7.

The two league wins improved the Highlanders to 7-5 in league play, good for a three-way tie for second and 9-11 overall.

First-year coach Sean Crider was greatly encouraged by the effort.

"We really needed that," he said. "We started preaching a (WIAA) playoff mentality to the guys. We needed to have the attitude that no one wants to lose."

The Highlanders will host Whitefish Bay at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17.

In the win over Nicolet, the Highlanders trailed by two at the half. Crider said forward Taejuan Johnson was busting his tail but needed help.

"I challenged the kids," Crider said."I told them, 'Are we going to leave him out there hanging out to dry or are we going to help him?'"

The immediate response came from two young players, Declan Ciurlik and Ryan Waddell, who Crider both said "played huge minutes."

There was a controversial finish to regulation, as Nicolet tied it on a basket that appeared to have been late. Nontheless, it counted, and the teams played on.

In the overtime, post player Jack Quinlevan got a big basket late to put Homestead up two. He was fouled but missed the free throw. Nicolet had only 2.6 seconds to get downcourt for a shot, and Crider said the Knights were unable to get a shot off.

Greg Foster Jr. led Homestead with 22 points, Johnson had 18, Quinlevan 12 and Ciurlik 8.

"Taejuan was engaged on both ends of the floor," said Crider.

He said this was a good test for the team because it was one of those rare games the Highlanders were able to win without having shot the ball well.

That was not the case against Port, as the Highlanders did shoot well, taking an initial 19-0 lead before settling for a 42-25 advantage at the break against the Pirates and then coasting home. Garrett Mitman hit five 3-pointers en route to a game-high 23 points, while Waddell added 10 and Foster Jr. 8.

Crider was impressed with the effort considering Quinlevan was out sick.

Crider said the team wants to finish well and maximize its potential WIAA seeding.

"We want to earn a little respect with the schedule we've played," he said.