When the game is on the line, star players want the ball in their hands to take the last shot. On Saturday night, with the game and the winning streak on the line, cue late-game heroics from Nick Okorie.
Coming into Saturday’s game with the Orangeville A’s, the Lightning had won five straight contests. They fought back from an 11-point, fourth quarter deficit on Friday night to take down the Windsor Express by 8, and needed some more fourth-quarter theatrics to knock off the A’s.
The teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter before Orangeville took an 86-84 lead on a mid-range jumper from Lewis Jackson with 2.8 seconds left on the clock.
Coach Julius called a timeout for the Lightning, and drew up a play off the inbounds. The ball found its way into the hands of Okorie. Then, with several guys guarding him, Okorie made magic happen.
He made a dribble, then stepped back and put up a three pointer with hands in his face.
The ball went up, and when it came down, it hit nothing but net and sent everyone inside Budweiser Gardens into a frenzy. Okorie’s three pointer sent the Lightning to the 87-86 victory over Orangeville, keeping the winning streak alive in the process.
The game couldn’t have started much better for the Lightning. After both teams missed on their first possessions of the game, Okorie hit a floater in the lane to give the Lightning the early 2-0 lead. Back on defense, the Lightning forced Orangeville into a 24-second shot clock violation, resulting in a turnover.
Shortly thereafter, Flenard Whitfield missed an open dunk for the A’s, which led to a fast break layup from Stephen Maxwell for the Lightning, on a great outlet pass from Akeem Wright. At the media timeout, the Lightning held a 14-8 lead over the A’s.
Down the stretch in the quarter, Tyshawn Patterson started to get hot from the field. He connected on back-to-back three pointers to push London’s lead to 27-18, and the Lightning would eventually take a 27-19 lead into the break.
The first quarter was all about the Lightning, but the second was all about the A’s. Orangeville opened the half on a 6-2 run, holding London to just 2 points in the first three-plus minutes of the quarter.
Justin Moss, formerly of the Buffalo Bulls, started to make his presence felt in the paint. First, he finished a layup in the lane while getting fouled, but missed the ensuing free throw. Then, he soared through the lane for a fast-break slam.
Shortly after, he went to the bench with three fouls, and London started to regain momentum. After being fouled by Moss, Kevin Loiselle made 1-of-2 free throws, and Okorie would make 1-of-2 from the line to keep London ahead of the A’s.
In the closing minutes, Lewis Jackson hit a three-pointer to give Orangeville a 47-46 lead. Then, Rick Bodiford made a pair of free throws to send the A’s into the half with a 48-47 lead.
The third quarter was shaky for both teams, as both struggled from the field in the early going. As the quarter wore on, the teams would trade baskets, and the lead in the process. Neither team was able to gain much momentum, and the Lightning still trailed by 1 as the game moved to the final quarter, 68-67.
Patterson opened the scoring in the fourth with a layup, then Orangeville looked as though they were going to take full control of the game. The A’s went on an 8-0 run to open up a 76-69 lead, and looked to be running away with the game. Moss kicked off the run by completing an and-one play, and Jameson Tipping hit a three pointer to spearhead the run.
London continued to chip away, and wouldn’t go away quietly. Patterson brought the Lightning all the way back, scoring five straight points to give them a slim 82-80 lead.
With the game tied at 84-all, the A’s had the ball with the shot clock turned off. Jackson made a drive to the hoop, stopped near the top of the key, and calmly connected on a mid-range jumper to put Orangeville ahead 86-84 with just 2.8 ticks left on the clock.
London coach Kyle Julius called a timeout and drew up a play that would give the Lightning a shot for the win. Off the inbounds, the ball found its way to Okorie atop the three point arc. He took a dribble, stepped back, and despite having hands in his face, he got off a good look for three just before the buzzer.
When the ball came down, it hit nothing but net, and sent everyone inside Budweiser Gardens into a frenzy. With one single shot, Okorie sent the Lightning to the 87-86 victory over the Orangeville A;s, and kept their winning streak going in the process.
Despite the loss, several Orangeville players put together impressive performances. Justin Moss continued his dominance in his first year in the NBL Canada, recording 19 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 blocks in the loss. He is showing why he was the MAC Player of the Year last season, and the front-runner this season before his dismissal from Buffalo.
Lewis Jackson added 23 points and 8 assists, while Bilal Benn just missed a double-double, recording 13 pointd and 9 rebounds.
For the hometown London Lightning, it was the high-scoring back court duo of Nick Okorie and Tyshawn Patterson leading the way. Both scored 23 points apiece to pace the Lightning on offense.
Forward Stephen Maxwell had a quiet night in terms of points, finishing with 6, but he was his usual self in terms of rebounding. He tied a London Lightning single-game record by pulling down 22 rebounds in the win. He finished 2 rebounds shy of tying the NBL Canada record (24).
Akeem Wright added 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists in the victory.
The loss was the fourth in the last five games for the Orangeville A’s (3-6). Orangeville now finds themselves in third-place in the Central Division, looking up at both London and the Windsor Express. The A’s return to the court on Friday night, when they open a three-game home stand against the Moncton Miracles.
Saturday night’s triumph was the sixth-straight win for the London Lightning (9-2), who now have the league’s top record. They’ve had to work for their last three wins, but the end results have all had London on top, which is all that matters. London will be back on the court on Friday night, when they kick off a stretch of three games in three nights with a road date against the Niagara River Lions.