The basket got bigger for Musa Thompson on Tuesday night.
Lambert's 6-foot-3, 190 pound wing came off the bench and eclipsed his career high by 15 points to finish with 26, including six 3-pointers, to neutralize the scrappy, sharp-shooting play of upset-minded Centennial in an 84-67 win at home.
Centennial, entering the game with a 9-4 record in Region 6-AAAAAA and fighting for playoff positioning, gave the Longhorns scares through multiple stretches. The Knights cut a 41-28 halftime lead to a 62-54 deficit at the end of the third, then pulled within three before Thompson's momentous shooting pulled his team up again.
Earlier in the game, the Longhorns (16-2, 14-0) showcased their depth by getting bench scoring from Thompson, David Viti (8 points) and Damon Stoudamire (5 points). At halftime, nine Longhorns had already scored baskets, and only two had more than one, but it was Thompson's three-straight treys in the second quarter that was eye opening—even to him.
“After the last couple of days, I really felt like I was getting my stroke back,” Thompson, a junior who joined the team after two years in Pennslyvania, said. “I took coach (Scott) Bracco's advice and went in there today and let it fly. It really started to go in, and it felt great.”
Thompson is a testament to Lambert's depth, and Bracco's rigorous, yet patient coaching style. Formerly of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, he joined Lambert's team as a newcomer this offseason. He was immediately recognizable as one of the more athletic players in practices, but he had to find a way to surface from a 19-player squad.
Earlier in the season, Thompson spent much of his playing time later in ball games, coming in as part of Bracco's third-tier rotation. He'd enter in the waning moments of blowouts, forcing himself to the hole and often struggling because of it. He was trying to score as much as he could in a short amount of time.
But time went on, and with a season-ending knee injury to Tanner Hall, who's preserving himself to play football at Georgia Southern in the fall, Thompson has fit naturally into the earlier bench rotations as a wing. After Tuesday, he might become an option as the first man off the bench.
“Musa shot outstanding tonight,” Lambert head coach Scott Bracco said. “He's taking every opportunity and advantage of everything. He's very active on the defensive end, he rebounds well for us and he's starting to settle in with the offense.”
Thompson said he's always seen himself as a slasher, with basket drives in mind and dunks a possibility, but he's slowly discovering a new identity.
“I always saw myself as a get-to-the-basket kind of guy. But as soon as Tanner went down, I was just grateful to fill in for him at the wing, and if I have to shoot, that's what I'll do.”
While Thompson was the star of the night, and Lambert remained undefeated in region play, he and his teammates, like Naval Academy commit Connor Mannion (15 points on Tuesday), are continuing to follow their coach's lead—they're downplaying their record, and taking pride in the little things.
Lambert hasn't been tested in a region game since its Jan. 5 tilt with Johns Creek, which boasts a 13-1 league record. The two teams will face off in the last regular season game on Feb. 5.
There's still work to be done before then.
“We need to get more consistent,” Mannion said. “We need to make sure we play great defense every game. Tonight they got a lot more rebounds than they needed to. When we're hitting shots, everything is great, but that's not always going to happen so we have to be stronger on the defensive end.
“Every game is important. But right now, we're just preparing for state.”
Thompson is also reflecting the mentality of his coach, not taking his increased playing time for granted. Instead, he's grateful to be on the floor. He relishes his chances, and interprets himself through the makeup of the entire team.
“Being able to play on such a deep basketball team, it's actually fast paced. That second group is really the spark off the bench. We play different segments, with scorers, defensive players, and a lot of guys who need to get their time in,” Thompson said.
Lambert girls 62, Centennial 48.
The Lady Longhorns (12-9, 8-6) used a big final quarter, outscoring the Lady Knights 19-6, to pull away for a region win that seeds them fourth, behind South Forsyth, West Forsyth, and a game behind North, in the region standings.
Molly Williams led the way with 14 points, while Summer Edwards scored 13, Jaleah Greene had 7 points and 7 rebounds, and Leah Cote added 11 boards.
“We finally started making some shots. I don't know percentage wise how we did in the first half, but it wasn't good. Defensively we did a great job. I was kind of worried about this game, coming back from the snow and not playing last Friday, so I expected it to be sloppy, but thankfully we got to halftime and started playing better,” head coach Jaime Fisher said.