By Marco Clark, exclusive to the Times
The Lakeview Gators won in thrilling fashion Friday night against the #2 ranked Red River Bulldogs with a heart stopping shot in the lane at the final buzzer by junior Nate Braden.
The teams finished warming up and prepared for the tip-off in front of a massive crowd of around 3,100, the biggest crowd to date for a high school basketball game during the regular season. Both teams got set for the tip-off and the Bulldogs came up with the opening possession. They wasted little time scoring. The Gators inbounded the ball for their first shot attempt but came up empty, giving the Bulldogs their second possession which converted into another two points on the scoreboard.
The Gators took over, but turned the ball turned the ball over. Red River inbounded the ball and precise ball passing led to another score while Lakeview still looked for their first basket of the game. Red River built a 9-0 lead before Lakeview’s Ty Washington drove to the goal and was fouled. Washing hit his shots from the charity stripe to put Lakeview on the board. Red River took over but came up empty.
The Gators got another attempt at scoring and this time Zarious Lewis answered the call. The Bulldogs inbounded the ball but this possession was met with strong opposition as the Gators employed a full court press. The pressure caused Red River to turn the ball over and Christopher Small added a long jump shot for two points, 9-6, Red River. The Bulldogs took over but turn the ball over on a bad pass that sailed out of bounds.
The Gators took over with Michael Shields bringing the ball up the court. Shields found Washington for a three that knots it up, 9-9. Red River took a time out then slowed the action down allowing them to find their rhythm and score a three of their own. Both teams continued to press keeping the score close as Red River took a 7 point lead into the half, 33-26.
The second half excitement built as Washington and Lewis continued their onslaught of scoring for the Gators. Washington sunk seven points while Lewis dropped in six in the third quarter to keep the Gators within striking range, 53-49. The start of the fourth quarter was slow. Both teams became fatigued after a fast paced first half and a moderate third. The Bulldogs struggles were apparent as their first three shots came up short of the basket. Lakeview took full advantage as Lewis hit a three to bring the Gators within one. The Bulldogs put together a scoring drive to take a three point lead 55-52.
Time out Gators.
Coach Brian Williams said, “I just wanted to calm them down while making a few substitutions. I wanted to put as many shooters on the floor as possible without giving up too much size.”
With the Bulldogs down by two they called a time out to draw up a play that allowed them to tie the game at 60. A time out with 15.2 seconds left in the game saw the Gators with Nate Braden inbounding the ball to Christopher Small. Small brought the ball up the court to find Lewis.
Red River swarmed Lewis in an attempt to trap but he found Braden at the top of the key with 4 seconds left in the game. Braden drove the lane and pulled up just inside the free throw line and fired up a shot and as time expired. As the ball went through the net the fans erupted.
Bulldogs fans looked on with disbelief.
The Gators celebrated a 62-60 win to split the series 1-1 and a possible outright district championship, or at the very least, a split championship. We will find out soon enough.
After the game, Williams said, “We started out sluggish early on. They (Red River) continued to press early and often and we could not break it. That is why I had to substitute early to adjust accordingly. When we figured out what the Bulldogs were doing we were able to slow them down and the rest is history.”
Concerning the winning shot, Williams said, “Nate really came through for us tonight and as well as a basketball player he is, he’s a better young man. Nate stays after practice an extra hour and a half everyday working on shooting, watching film and just working on the little things that will prepare him for the next game. He’s a joy to have on the team because he makes my job a little easier.”