FRANKFORT – Momentum is a crazy thing.
And it changed so often during Friday night’s matchup between Lincoln-Way East and Lincoln-Way Central that it wasn’t surprising that the outcome wasn’t ultimately decided until one last momentum surge from the Griffins, courtesy of Jhei-R Jones.
Jones, a sophomore, attacked the basket with vigor and drew a foul in the process of making a basket with 5.6 seconds to play. He then calmly stepped to the line and drained the free throw that allowed the Griffins to secure a 55-54 overtime win.
“The play was originally designed for me,” Jones said. “I just tried to execute and finish the bucket. You have to have confidence. I’ve never been in a high school game that intense before. It was very different.”
Only moments before it looked like Lincoln-Way Central might have put itself in the driver’s seat when Sean Curran connected on one of two free throws to put the Knights in front, 54-52.
But the missed free throw left the door open for Lincoln-Way East and allowed for a two-point option for offense rather than relying on the 3-point line to tie the score. Jones had a viable option lurking on the perimeter in teammate Julian Barr, but Jones went for the equalizer and then got the added bonus after he scored and was fouled in the process.
Earlier in the overtime, it looked like Lincoln-Way East would never get the chance for some last-second heroics.
Matt Maloney opened the overtime with a basket for the Knights, and then, he canned three free throws. Another free throw from Curran allowed Lincoln-Way Central to claim a 53-49 lead.
But Barr, who was playing his first game of the season after recovering from an ankle injury, kept the Griffins close by hitting a 3-pointer, and when the door opened, the Griffins seized the moment.
It was a far cry from what sent the game into overtime. Lincoln-Way East held a 47-43 lead into the last 10 seconds of the game, Curran whittled it to two points with a basket just outside the 3-point line. And then, when Lincoln-Way East had trouble inbounding the basketball, a long pass to the midcourt stripe led to a turnover.
Lincoln-Way Central’s attempt from the 3-point line was no good, but the Knights had a man on the job as Kevin Hayes scooped up a rebound and connected on the putback as the horn to end regulation deadlocked at 47.
None of this late scoring flurry looked particularly possible after a first half where both teams struggled mightily on offense. Lincoln-Way Central took early command of the game after Lincoln-Way East failed to record a point for the first four minutes of the game. Things didn’t pick up much either over the course of the first half as the Knights went into the half with a 21-17 lead.
But it was a different Lincoln-Way East (5-6) team that emerged from the halftime break, one that found its scoring touch rather quickly. Barr and Jones were a wrecking crew in the quarter as they combined for 21 points in the quarter. Barr was particularly impressive after being held scoreless in the first half.
“Getting Julian back in the lineup kind of steadies us a little bit,” Lincoln-Way East coach Rich Kolimas said. “He kind of looked like his old self again.”
The Griffins cooled off in the fourth quarter, though, which allowed Lincoln-Way Central to force the unlikely overtime period.
“It’s nice to be a part of games like that, it is good to see who is going to step up,” Lincoln-Way Central coach Bob Curran said. “There were mistakes made on our end. They made some plays down the stretch, and I thought we made some plays too. The free-throw line really hurt us.”