LIBERTY TWP. — Lakota East High School’s boys basketball team continues to succeed in a season that’s been one big obstacle course.
Injuries, ineligibility and illnesses have wracked the Thunderhawks, who have responded by closing in on the Greater Miami Conference championship.
Bash Wieland (17), Will Johnston (16), Grant Spicer (14) and Kaden Fuhrmann (11) were double-digit scorers Tuesday night as East fought off visiting Middletown 64-54.
TUESDAY NIGHT BOYS BASKETBALL COVERAGE
“We had four guys miss practice yesterday because they were sick,” said Thunderhawks coach Clint Adkins, mentioning Wieland, Nate Johnson, Nick Holtman and Deshawn Brown-Jackson. “We’re not going to make excuses. Everybody battles sickness and injuries. Adversity has been this season for us, and I think every time adversity has hit our guys, we’ve really met the challenge.”
East dominated the final five minutes, pulling away from a 49-48 advantage with a 15-4 spurt and conquering the Middies for the second time this year.
The GMC-leading Thunderhawks are 14-5 overall and 12-1 in the conference. They have a two-game edge over Mason and Oak Hills with three GMC contests remaining.
“No matter what happens, we just stick together,” said Johnston, a senior guard. “We’re all pretty close on and off the court, so that helps when it comes down to the end of games.”
East took care of Middletown (7-12, 3-10) in efficient fashion down the stretch.
The Thunderhawks shot 59.5 percent from the floor (22-of-37), 64.3 percent from 3-point range (9-of-14) and 84.6 percent from the foul line (11-0f-13). They top the GMC in all three categories, along with assists.
“That’s offensive efficiency at its best,” Adkins said. “When we don’t settle for the first shot, we’re really, really difficult to guard. Our guys have really bought into sharing the basketball.”
The hosts, who only used six players, earned a 23-16 advantage on the glass. Spicer had six rebounds, Wieland five, and Johnson and Fuhrmann four apiece.
The Middies shot well themselves — 50 percent on field goals, 38.5 percent on 3-pointers and 71.4 percent from the line — and only committed eight turnovers. Yet they had two critical fourth-quarter turnovers.
“The timing of the turnovers was poor,” Middletown coach Darnell Hoskins said. “All in all, I was very pleased with the effort that our kids gave tonight. We gave ourselves a chance to win on the road against the best team in the league, at least record-wise, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Hoskins said the game plan included using the Middies’ quickness to play pressure defense and attack the basket. They tried to spread LEHS out at times and beat them off the dribble.
Much of that plan worked. What ultimately beat Middletown was the fact that East simply kept scoring.
“I thought the kids executed the game plan beautifully,” Hoskins said. “We thought our speed could cause them problems, and I think it did. But give them credit. They did what they do best — they made shots. Clint does a really good job in terms of developing shooters. They were at home, and it looked like it when it was going out of their hands.”
Kei’Aunte Powell paced the Middies with 17 points. Aaron Jones and Rob Thompson both scored nine, and Johrdon Mumford added eight.
Hoskins said Middletown will continue to get better as Dunbar transfer guard Kadar Gardner becomes more and more comfortable in the Middies’ system.
“Middletown played their butts off,” Adkins said. “We were very, very passive against their pressure in the first half. When you play teams like Middletown that get up in you and crawl up in you, you have to attack vertically. I thought in the first half we were playing very horizontally, very side to side. We did a much better job of attacking that pressure in the second half.”
Johnston was 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and Fuhrmann was 3-of-3 for the Thunderhawks. Johnston said East remained calm when it was anybody’s game in the fourth period.
“We knew we had to come together and get a win,” Johnston said. “We just had to grind out possessions and sit down on defense. Middletown was tough. They did a real good job.”
Both teams resume GMC play Friday. The Thunderhawks will visit Lakota West, while the Middies host Princeton.
Lakota East 17-8-17-22—64
MIDDLETOWN (7-12, 3-10 GMC): Kei’Aunte Powell 7 3 17; Aaron Jones 4 0 9; Kadar Gardner 2 0 6; Rob Thompson 3 1 9; Johrdon Mumford 4 0 8; Jayden Jackson 2 1 5. Totals: 22-5-54
LAKOTA EAST (14-5, 12-1 GMC): Kaden Fuhrmann 3 2 11; Bash Wieland 6 4 17; Will Johnston 6 0 16; Grant Spicer 5 4 14; Nate Johnson 1 1 3; Stephen McKay 1 0 3. Totals: 22-11-64
3-pointers: M 5 (Gardner 2, Thompson 2, Jones), L 9 (Johnston 4, Fuhrmann 3, McKay, Wieland)