Lambert multi-sport athlete Cam Bland made some huge plays against Milton in what essentially served as a Region 6-7A football championship game last fall, but it wasn't enough to defeat the Eagles.
On the basketball court, the sophomore has now come through in the clutch twice in the past few weeks to lead Lambert past Milton — with the most recent coming Friday in Fulton County.
Bland, whose late layup proved the difference in a 71-69 win Jan. 6 at home, buried the game-winning 3-pointer in the Longhorns' 68-67 triumph this time around.
“He’s a 15-year-old sophomore, but you wouldn’t know it,” Lambert head coach Clay Wages said of Bland, who played running back on the winningest football team in program history this season. “He’s mentally tough. He’s physically tough. He plays way older than he is. He’s a calm presence for us. He’s never up. He’s never down. He could play horrible; he’s fine. He could play great; he’s fine. He’s the same player every single play, every single game.
“I’m proud of him. That’s a big shot, and he’s going to have a lot more of those in his career.”
In the final minute, the Longhorns trailed by four points after letting a nine-point lead entering the fourth quarter slip away.
Niko Wilson converted two free throws to cut the deficit in half. Then, Milton missed late in the shot clock, giving Lambert one final chance.
Wilson drove into the key, and when Bland's defender tried to help on Wilson, the senior kicked the ball to the right wing. With no hesitation, Bland sank the go-ahead shot with 3.8 seconds to go.
The Eagles launched a prayer from halfcourt prior to the buzzer going off, but it went unanswered.
“So proud, words can’t describe it,” Wages said. “They fight so hard. That was a game of runs. It was like a boxing match, whoever threw the last punch. Luckily, we had the ball almost at the end and made a play.”
With Milton coming off a loss to region-leading Denmark, the Eagles started slowly. The Longhorns took a 9-4 lead — despite missing some opportunities at the rim — before the hosts scored 12 of the final 14 points of the opening period.
The second quarter saw some wild swings in momentum.
Lambert scored the first dozen points of the stanza and later extended its advantage to 27-18. However, Milton reeled off nine consecutive points to tie the score.
The Longhorns — who finished the game 17-for-18 at the foul line — responded with nine straight points themselves and led 36-29 at halftime.
Even though Milton briefly pulled with 38-36 early in the third quarter, Lambert took a double-digit lead late in the period before settling for a 53-44 edge entering the fourth.
Over those middle two quarters, Wilson absolutely took over, making a statement in the region player of the year race. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound guard poured in 20 of his 28 points across the second and third periods.
“He’s a winner, man” Wages said. “He trusted his teammates at the end. He scored 28, but the best play he made was the kick to Cam for the game-winning 3. He’s so unselfish. I love him to death.”
With the win, the Longhorns took a huge step towards securing a bye in the region tournament and, more importantly, the automatic bid to the Class 7A state tournament that comes with it.
Lambert (15-7, 5-2) currently sits second in the region, holding a one-game lead over Milton (16-6, 4-3) in addition to the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Longhorns sit a game back of the Danes, with whom they have already split.
“Anytime you can beat a region opponent, it’s great,” Wages said. “Milton, obviously, is such a good program that that gets a little extra hype. We’re excited with any region win, but there’s no doubt that we’re excited to come in here and get this one.”
There's still a decent chance Lambert — which received 11 points, seven assists and five rebounds from James Tyre — is able to land the No. 1 seed in the region.
But Wages isn't looking that far ahead, especially not with South Forsyth next on the schedule. The War Eagles downed the Longhorns, 62-59, in their first matchup.
“Last time, we had a bit of a letdown after we played Milton.” Wages said. “We’ve got a tough South Forsyth team Tuesday. They are very good. Our kids have got to be ready. They are going to bring it like they always do.
"We cannot afford a letdown. … We tend to come out flat after big wins. We cannot come out flat. If we do, South Forsyth is going to beat us again. We have to have energy. We have to come out, play them like we do everybody else and take care of business.”