Mark Schmetzer, Enquirer contributor, reports:
The last time Lakota East and Lakota West met, on Dec. 20 at West, the Firebirds took advantage of playing at home to overcome a seven-point fourth-quarter lead and come away with a gritty 45-43 Greater Miami Conference win.
In the rematch Tuesday at East, the Thunderhawks never trailed after taking a 4-2 lead and fended off several West comeback attempts to escape with a 72-68 win.
“That was our biggest motivation,” said 6-foot-7 junior center Alex White, who led the Thunderhawks with 20 points and 10 rebounds. “That was in the back of our minds the whole game.”
West, the No. 4 team in The Enquirer’s Division I coaches’ poll, tied the game, 61-61, with 1:34 left on a 15-foot jumper by senior guard Tyler Williams, who finished with a career-high 24 points.
East junior guard Dylan Lowery responded with a driving layup and free throw to give the Thunderhawks (9-4, 5-2), ranked No. 7 in The Enquirer coaches’ poll, a 64-61 lead with 1:12 remaining. White added a 10-foot jumper from the right baseline, while his teammates were sinking 6 of 8 free throws in the final 1:02 to lead by as many as six points.
East coach Wally Vickers didn’t need to remind his players of recent history.
“We talked about it in the fourth quarter,” he said. “It was stuck in the back of their minds.”
The loss was the second straight for the Firebirds (7-3, 5-2), both in the GMC, even though Vickers believes they have the best starting five in the conference.
“I think we have a good five,” coach Sean Van Winkle said. “I think we have a good team. We’re just struggling to put it together right now.”
White, who went into the game tied for the Thunderbird team lead in scoring with an average of 14.3 points per game, scored 10 in the first quarter to help East lead by as many as nine before Williams made a 3-pointer to cap West’s 6-0 run to the end the quarter.
Mays got hot in the second quarter, sinking four 3-pointers to give him a single-game career-high of five by halftime. East led by nine twice in the quarter, but Williams turned his steal into a wide-open layup to cut the deficit to 33-31 at halftime.
Williams, also averaging 14.3 points per game going in, finished the half with 15.