When the buzzer sounded at the end of regulation with the game still tied, Joe Bates turned toward the Lambert boys bench, pumped his fist and yelled, ‘Let’s go!’ Playing their fourth game in five days, the Longhorns had already chipped away a 20-point third quarter deficit against West Forsyth. What was four more minutes of basketball then?
It was just enough time for Lambert to pull out a 61-59 victory against the Wolverines on Tuesday in a Region 6-AAAAAA game. The Longhorns kept hold of first place in the region and put a compelling exclamation point on a grueling stretch of basketball.
“Down by 20, we knew we could win,” Bates said. “We’d been there before. Once we got it into overtime, that’s all we needed to win.”
“I think we finished this game like champions,” Lambert coach Scott Bracco said. “Down 20 with a quarter and a half to go, these guys dug down with four games in five days and played great defense and executed the game plan offensively.”
Lambert became quite familiar with playing from behind over the past five days. There was the 64-49 victory over South Forsyth, a rivalry game that was close throughout. There was a 79-75 loss at McIntosh the following night, a game they trailed in by double digits before mounting an unsuccessful comeback. There was a 54-50 win over Mt. Vernon Presbyterian in the Hoops in Overdrive Classic at Centennial on Monday, another game the Longhorns trailed in before finding a way to win. And there was still West to play Tuesday.
This stretch was by design. Bracco said he scheduled McIntosh and the Hoops in Overdrive appearance to challenge Lambert in hopes that the experience would pay dividends in the region and state tournaments, even if it did so at the expense of the Longhorns’ stamina.
Lambert looked rusty from the start. West (8-11, 4-5) went on a 12-0 run in the first quarter and led 15-6. The Wolverines led 28-16 at halftime. Longhorn starters Logan Bush and Bates had not scored yet.
A 12-4 run by West to start the third quarter was punctuated by a mass tip-in, a flurry of arms and hands going up for a missed shot that somehow knocked the ball into the basket and gave the Wolverines a 40-20 lead.
“It’s been tough,” Bates said about Lambert’s four-games-in-five-days stretch. “It definitely takes its toll. West is a good team. We didn’t take them lightly, but we knew we had it in us.”
Bates (11 points) began the comeback. After West’s tip in, the senior hit a 3 on Lambert’s next possession. The Longhorns forced a 5-second violation, and Bates hit a long jumper. Grant Lancaster made a short hook shot, and Bates knocked down another 3 to cut the lead to 42-31 at the end of the third quarter.
“I was a little off in the first half,” Bates said, “but I knew I just had to keep on shooting. I knew we needed something big to come and bring the energy.”
Gradually, the comeback continued. Trevor Shipes (15 points, nine rebounds, six blocks) cut the lead to single digits at 42-33 with a lay-up to start the fourth quarter. Jake Morris free throws made it 50-46 with 1:51 left. The rally finished when Logan Bush (17 points, seven rebounds) scored the last of his 14 fourth-quarter points on a driving floater and free throw to make it 53-53 with 31.3 seconds left.
“Logan is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached,” Bracco said. “His slow start was an indication of four games in five days. And then at halftime, he said he was going to refocus, mentally prepare and dominate the game and he did.”
The Longhorns scored the first five points of overtime, and when West looked to inbound the ball down 59-56 with mere seconds left, Shipes stole the inbounds pass and coasted for a lay-up to seal the win.
“We still have a long way to go,” Bracco said, “but playing these quality teams is really helping us learn to close out games and how to fight to win games.”
Nick Staiti led West with 22 points and 12 rebounds, John Conway had 13 points and Derek Morris added eight points and six rebounds. Jimmy Staiti grabbed 15 rebounds but was held to just three points.