With their backs against the wall clinging to feint hopes of a Northern Buckeye Conference title share, the Lake Flyers were ready to answer the challenge at home against first-place Otsego on Thursday night.
The Flyers (17-2, 9-2 NBC) blew out to an early 8-2 lead and never looked back in avenging an earlier road loss to the Knights (16-2, 10-1) with an impressive 67-51 victory to pull within a game of first place.
Lake — separated from the top by only an upset conference loss at home to Eastwood — will need some help from another NBC team to tie Otsego for the title.
The hot Flyers, who shot 58 percent (26 of 45) from the field, were led by sophomore guard Connor Bowen’s 22 points.
“We had a big crowd, so we wanted to come out and be on our A-game,” Bowen said. “It was awesome. We had to win this game, and we’re hoping someone else can knock them off so we can get in on the league title.
“We put in a new offense so me and [fellow sophomore guard] Jared Rettig could do our thing. We did what my dad [coach Ryan Bowen] told us to do, and everything worked out as planned.”
Lake post player Marcus Pierce had 14 points and five rebounds, and 6-5 junior forward Jayce Vancena added 10 points and nine rebounds.
“Our kids really wanted this,” coach Bowen said. “Marcus Pierce came out and had an unbelievable night for us. The last time we played them [65-57 loss Jan. 4] he didn’t play much because he had the flu. “That hurt us. He’s only averaging seven points a game, but he’s a space-filler. He takes up a lot of room, and tonight he played phenomenal. It was just a great team effort. Everybody had a part in our win tonight.”
Otsego, on the other hand, struggled throughout, offensively, finishing 17 of 48 (35 percent) from the field.
“I’m disappointed in our effort tonight,” Otsego coach Jim Bostdorff said. “They just outplayed us. They were obviously hungrier than us, but this was their season. They knew they had to win tonight, and credit to them. They just rolled us. We were never in this game.”
Knights standout 6-4 senior forward A.C. Limes, who came in averaging 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, was never a factor in the game. He finished with just seven points and three boards, a reflection of Otsego’s inability to execute with the ball.
The Knights, whose only lead of the game was 2-0 less than a minute in, did catch some momentum early in the second quarter. Jerome Griffin hit a 3-pointer, and two free throws by Limes got Otsego within 20-16 with 6:14 left in the half.
But Lake, which danced around some early foul trouble with good support off the bench, answered with a Tyler Landis 3-pointer, two Bowen free throws, and Bowen’s 10-foot runner from the lane to push its lead back to 27-16 with 4:33 remaining in the half.
That was about it for Otsego, which got no closer than eight points before halftime, and trailed 37-23 at the break.
“We were careless with the basketball, and we didn’t get the ball where we wanted it,” Bostdorff said. “Quite frankly, when we got behind, we just started panicking.”
Lake’s largest lead of the game was 19 points on three occasions early in the final quarter. The Flyers outrebounded Otsego 29-24, and forced 12 Knights turnovers while committing 11.
“We have two losses this year and, in both of those games we were up by 12 in the first half,” coach Bowen said. “They come out like caged Tigers, but then they get a little lax. Tonight they didn’t. They stayed the course and trusted in what we wanted to do.
“Their spacing on offense was great. This week we worked on nothing but defense, but the kids came out and had a great offensive night anyway.”
Otsego’s one strength on the night was 3-point shooting, hitting nine of 22 beyond the arc.
Ryan Smoyer topped the Knights with 13 points and nine rebounds, backup guard Jalen Myers mixed three 3-pointers into his 11-point night, and John Thomas added 10 points for Otsego. The Knights’ only prior loss this season came back on Dec. 8, 61-36 at Evergreen. Otsego’s remaining NBC games are against Genoa, Elmwood, and Rossford.
“This is not the end of the world for us,” Bostdorff said. “Maybe it’s a good wakeup call. If we win out, it’s still all ours. We’ll see how we respond.”
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.