Lakeview Academy boys basketball coach Seth Vining knows the danger of letting an opposing team hang around, especially away from home.
But he also enjoys the potential benefits.
“Particularly away from home, allowing a team to stay within striking distance is a concern, but it also builds character for your team,” he said. “You have to respond, and we did respond.”
The Lions pulled away after leading by just four at the half to defeat Riverside Military Academy 53-37 on Saturday afternoon at Curtis Hall in Gainesville.
The Eagles, who never led, actually got even closer at 30-28 with 5:45 remaining in the third after one of Jake Weiner’s five 3-pointers for Riverside (3-7, 0-3 Region 8-AA).
But, like they did throughout the day, the Lions responded, with senior Joel Larsen sinking a 3-pointer to put the visitors back ahead by five on the next possession.
Weiner, who led the Eagles with 16 points, hit two more treys in the third to keep Riverside within range. Lakeview (12-5, 7-1 Region 8-A) responded each time with a 3-pointer, first by J.B. Britte and then again by Larsen, whose second shot put the Lions ahead 41-34 with 2:05 remaining in the third.
“If we hadn’t responded,” said Lakeview forward Austin Montgomery of Weiner’s three’s, “that probably would have been stuck in our heads.”
But they did, and Montgomery sealed the win by scoring eight of the team’s final 12 points of the game. The 6-foot-8 senior finished with a team-high 26 points to go along with 13 rebounds and three blocks.
Montgomery was the only Lion in double figures, while Caleb Faulkner added nine points.
Montgomery said he knew he would be counted on even more than usual to score given the Lions’ height advantage, and for most of the night he didn’t have much trouble, scoring on putbacks, layups, dunks and jump shots.
And, to the detriment of the 10-man Eagles team, Lakeview didn’t slow down in the second half.
“I thought we played good defense in the second half, even though we didn’t press much,” said Vining, who added that his team had one of its best defensive performances the night before in a 69-37 win over Prince Avenue Christian, and had trouble early with turning around to play at 2:30 p.m. the next day.
“It’s a credit to our depth, and it’s a credit to our desire to play hard.”
Riverside coach Lazarus Chennault liked what he saw out of his team as well, despite the final result.
“I thought we played pretty good as a team,” he said. “We just kept fighting to the end — that’s what I like to see out of this team.”
Eagles senior Adrian Humphrey added 10 points, including all six of his team’s points in the first quarter, as Riverside rallied from a 9-0 hole to open the game to get within 12-9 after Weiner’s first 3-pointer early in the second quarter. Weiner’s second 3-pointer of the first half brought the Eagles to within four points, at 23-19, at the break.
After the game Chennault marveled at Weiner’s work ethic that keeps him so dangerous even well behind the 3-point arc.
“That kid wakes up at 5:30 a.m. every morning to shoot, and I have to let him in the gym, I can’t tell him no,” the first-year coach said. “When he’s on, he’s on.”
It wasn’t enough to get the win over a Hall County rival, but the Eagles, like the Lions, understood the importance of this game as more preparation for the resumption of the region schedule.
“Adrian said to the team that we just want to get ready for region play,” Chennault said.
Riverside next plays 2012 Region 8-AA runner-up Jefferson at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Gainesville.
Lakeview heads right back into region schedule as well with a 7:30 p.m. Tuesday matchup with Providence Christian in Gainesville. The Lions then get another shot at the team that defeated them in the region championship game last season, Athens Christian, at 8:30 p.m. Friday in Athens.