Tom Ramstetter, Enquirer contributor, reports:
Fairfield led for most of the game and outlasted Greater Miami Conference rival Lakota West 61-51 Friday night at Fairfield to move into a first-place tie with Middletown in the GMC.
Fairfield won its third straight game and Middletown lost its third straight, 65-61, at home to Lakota East Friday.
“We aren’t going to worry about that at all,” Fairfield coach Tim Austing said. “It’s a long two weeks. We’re certainly happy with the way we’re playing right now. We’re playing our best basketball.”
The Indians (13-4, 7-3 GMC), ranked No. 5 in the latest Enquirer Division I area coaches’ poll, shot 59 percent from the field against West and built a 16-point fourth quarter lead before holding back a late Firebirds run.
Senior guard Tim Fleming led all scorers with 18 points, making 7 of 10 from the field and 4 of 5 from the free throw line.
“Honestly, we played an excellent game,” Fleming said. “The big thing for us was being physical with them.”
That physical play contributed to a 40-percent shooting night for West. The Firebirds made only 20 of 50 shots and 3 of 11 free throws in the game before coming on a bit at the end. West went on a 9-0 run in the fourth and cut the deficit to six, but the Indians responded with a 7-0 run to squash the rally.
West’s only lead Friday was a 2-0 advantage in the first few seconds of the game and the Firebirds have lost two of three.
“We played great defense, there’s no doubt about it,” Austing said. “They can shoot it a little better than they did and at the end, you started seeing that. They would say it wasn’t their best night shooting, but we played great defense too.”
No. 4 Lakota West (11-5, 6-4) had beaten Fairfield 50-42 in a non-conference game Jan. 20 as part of the LaRosa’s Royal 8 Tournament at Fairfield.
“The first game, they kind of threw the first punch and we weren’t going to let that happen again,” Fleming said. “We prepared all week like crazy.
“We needed that loss as a little bit of motivation for this game. That game counts, but we want the GMC game. This year we’re going to try to stay on it and keep our foot on the gas pedal. Hopefully we come out on top.”
Play of the Game: Senior Herman Brunis made a steal at half court and raced in for an emphatic two-handed dunk early in the second quarter.
The 5-foot-11 guard had no trouble getting enough air and riling the home crowd. The basket put Fairfield in front 16-8.
Stars of the Game: Fleming added five rebounds and five assists to his 18 points and sophomore forward T.C. Wells scored 17 with eight rebounds for Fairfield.
Senior guard Malik Grove led three West scorers in double figures with 14. Senior forward Justin Martin scored 13 and guard Tyler Williams added 12 for the Firebirds.
View From the Sideline: “I think it’s more of a sign that we’re really starting to grasp our offense, where our shots should come from and who should take our shots,” Austing said of his team’s torrid shooting. “Being unselfish and waiting for a great shot instead of settling for a quick good one. So we shot it well, but we were patient and took good shots.”
Austing was also happy with the Indians fighting back the late West rally.
“There’s a tendency in games when you have a nice lead to stop trying and try to watch the clock and hold the ball. I think we got into that mode a little too early and we let them make a little bit of a comeback instead of just playing right through the end of the clock. Some of that is my fault, but we came back and put the thing away.”
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