With Greater Miami Conference leader Princeton coming up next on the slate, Lakota East High School boys basketball coach Clint Adkins would have liked to have seen a more complete performance Friday night against rival Lakota West.
Instead, the Thunderhawks had to fight off a late surge to complete a 58-48 win in front of a packed gym at home on Military Appreciation Night.
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The visiting Firebirds (3-10, 1-7 GMC) cut as much as a 20-point deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter, but never could take a lead, as East (9-5, 6-2 GMC) extended its win streak to five games and handing West a fifth consecutive loss. The Firebirds lead the series 19-17 but the Hawks have now won seven of the last eight, including three straight.
“We made enough plays to win the game, but at the same time, when you’re up 20 points, you’ve got to learn how to keep pushing it to 24, 26, 28,” Adkins said. “We get up 42-22 and we just lose our mind. We come down and have three straight one- or zero-pass possessions and leave their shooters for wide-open 3s and let them right back in the game. That was a little disappointing that we didn’t play better with the lead. To Lakota West’s credit, they kept playing hard and kept fighting.”
East started off strong, scoring the game’s first 10 points, but gave the Firebirds plenty of opportunities they just couldn’t capitalize on offensively.
West eventually bounced back with an 8-0 run to end the first quarter and cut the deficit to 10-8 on Charlie Massa’s 3-pointer as time expired. But the Hawks pulled away in the second period with the help of five 3-pointers and went to the locker room at the half up 32-18.
Jarrett Cox scored 11 of his game-high 17 points in the first half, and Alex Mangold had 11 of his 14 points by the end of the third quarter.
“I thought early we missed a lot of layups and we had a lot of great shots but just weren’t making them,” West coach Matt Rooks said. “We were kind of hanging but then when we struggle to score, we get down 20 and it’s hard to come back. I give our guys credit for battling and fighting and scratching, but I thought free throws and missing I think four layups in the first half, if we make those, the game is a little different at halftime. They are well-coached and play good defense, so I give East a lot of credit.”
Adkins said the Hawks were lucky to build such a big lead against West while not playing as well defensively as they normally do in the first half. East was able to push the ball in transition and make some easy baskets to separate itself in the second quarter and into the third before West picked up the pace to claw it way back.
Despite trailing 42-22 late in the third quarter, West drew within eight points twice in the final period, but the Firebirds could never edge any closer. They outscored East 21-14 in the fourth quarter, despite the Hawks going 9-for-10 from the free throw line.
Jared McCorkle and Mitch Wagner had 15 points each to lead the Firebirds, combining to score 13 points in the fourth quarter.
“They scored (22) points in the second quarter and to me that was the biggest difference,” Rooks said. “I was proud of our guys for fighting and battling, but we’ve got Colerain on Tuesday so we need to bounce back from an emotional game here and try to get one against a team that’s playing well.”
While West prepares for a 4-9 Colerain squad, East sets to host Princeton and McDonald’s All-American Darius Bazley on Tuesday. Bazley, a senior forward/guard, is signed to play at Syracuse and is Ohio’s top-rated boys basketball player in the Class of 2018.
“They are the best team in the league right now, very talented,” Adkins said. “They play hard, defend you. We have to play really well to beat those guys, but it will be a good challenge and I think we’re up for it.”