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Lakeview prepped and ready for matchup with Athens Christian
Lakeview's Tyler Ward attempts a free throw at the Lions' practice Thursday. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times
GAINESVILLE — An hour before practice Thursday, the Lakeview Academy boys sat together in silence watching a video about former Green Bay Packers’ coach Vince Lombardi entitled, “What It Takes To Be No. 1.”

They stared at a projector screen reading and listening to quotes on mental toughness and discipline.

At its conclusion, Lakeview coach Seth Vining put in another video. Again in silence the Lakeview boys watched what went wrong in their 82-66 lone region loss to Athens Christian earlier this season.

It’s a coach’s job to analyze and critique, it’s in their job description.

When Vining turned on the lights following the highlight-less film, however, he made that job his seniors’.

“We were intimidated,” point guard Haughton Carswell said to his teammates. “We didn’t make the whole game a battle. I don’t know about y’all, but watching that video makes me mad.”

“We all know we can play better than that,” senior Nick Saye added. “We need to play like we are the reigning region champions because we are. We have to go take (the game) from them.”

Tonight, Lakeview (14-6, 10-1 Region 8-A) travels to Athens Christian (16-2, 10-0) and will not only attempt to take a game away from the Eagles, but move into a tie for the top spot in the Region 8-A standings.

“We’re trying to get the players to understand that everyone we’re playing right now, we’re going to have to turn around and play them in two or three weeks in the region tournament,” Vining said. “We don’t want to put too much emphasis on any one game, but instead make sure we’re constantly getting better.”

The Lions’ season thus far has been a testament to that mentality.

At the end of Lakeview’s game against the Eagles on Dec. 19, the Lions were 2-5 and averaging 61 points per game.

Since then, they are 12-1, averaging 72 points per game, and beating teams by an average of 29.3 points. In the last three games alone, Lakeview’s won by an average of 40 points.

“I feel like we’ve grown as a team (since playing Athens Christian), and I feel like individually we’ve grown some,” Vining said.

Case in point, senior shooting guard Tyler Ward, who is currently the team’s leading scorer at 13 points per game.

“Against Athens Academy, which was probably one of our best wins of the year, (Ward) had six assists and five rebounds,” Vining said. “A month ago, Tyler would have never had six assists.

“He’s working on things besides just being a shooter and he has played well down the stretch for us,” he added. “He has made a conscious effort to improve his game, and I think our team’s better because
he’s making that effort.”

The Lakeview offense has found its niche with not only the shooting of Ward but the leadership of Carswell, who according to Vining, sets the tempo and mood of the team.

Vining, however, hangs his hat on the team’s defense which since Dec. 19 has allowed only 46 points per game.

“Defense is where we make a lot of things happen,” Vining said. “Our defense has to continue to be strong and the focus of what we do — what makes us — is our defense.”

Lakeview’s defense will have to be especially strong tonight as it faces a team averaging 80 points per game.

“I don’t think we played exceptionally well against Athens Christian the first time,” Vining said. “But I think their quickness and athletic ability created a lot of problems for us.”

The Eagles have at their disposal a world-class high jumper from the Bahamas in 6-foot-3 Raymond Higgs, who jumps 7-4 in the high jump, and a freshman point guard in Zach Lillie, who put up a triple-double (13 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists) in his team’s 76-64 win against Social Circle last Friday night.

Regardless of what they’re facing the Lions know what’s at stake and what it’s going to take to be No. 1.

“We have to play about a perfect game,” Ward said. “We know what we’ve got to do.”

“We’ve had a lot of team bonding and we’re playing good together right now,” Grayson Ingram said. “It feels like there’s a bounty on our head, but knowing we won a region title last year gives us confidence.”
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