LAKE ORION - After nearly 30 years the boys basketball team isn’t ready to leave the party just yet.
Playing in their first regional semifinal in 28 years, the Dragons rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to upend 52-50 at home Monday night.
Junior forward Chaz Miller buried a go-ahead 3-pointer from the top of the key with only 28.5 seconds left in the game.
“I was just praying it would go in,” Miller said, surrounded by fans that rushed the court.
Before launching the shot, Miller actually thought twice about letting it go. Lake Orion (15-9) ran almost a minute off the clock swinging the ball around the perimeter looking for an opening in the Knights zone.
Miller passed up an opportunity to shoot earlier in the possession, but when he got the ball back, and the defender gave him a little space, he set his feet and let it fly.
“Chaz is what we call a gamer,” Dragons coach Tom Risi said. “He’s the kind of kid who wants the ball in his hands for that shot, he lives for that shot. When he got it, I knew before it went in, it was going down.”
On the ensuing possession, Khalil Gracey missed a wild 3-pointer. Lahser had a chance to get the ball back when John McCarty missed the front end of a one-and-one with 6.4 seconds left, but Yante Maten couldn’t corral the rebound.
Lake Orion forced a jump ball with only three seconds left and had the possession arrow facing in its direction. The Knights didn’t even have time to foul on the inbounds play.
“Our guys were so young, they stumbled,” Lahser coach Duane Graves said. “It’s tough playing in someone’s home gym. It is what it is.”
At the core of the Knights’ squad is a group of young and talented sophomores. Gracey, Maten and Armand Cartwright are only in their second season.
While they opened the game looking like the more poised team, their inexperience got the best of them in the fourth quarter.
Lahser came out and completely shut the Dragons down with its zone defense in the first and burst out to an 18-0 lead. Lake Orion didn’t score until there was 6:37 left in the second quarter, and trailed the Knights 29-17 at halftime.
“We just did a terrible job in the first half with energy, terrible job defensively, terrible job rebounding the basketball,” Risi said. “We just played god awful in the first half."
Risi said half time “got a little ugly” for his team as he told them to man-up. To break Lahser’s zone, he stressed the need for patience on offense.
His two big men – McCarty and Brad Watterworth – came up huge in the second half. McCarty was Lake Orion’s most consistent option on offense, scoring a game-high 20 points.
Watterworth did a little of everything down the stretch for the Dragons. He scored six of his eight points in the fourth quarter and came up big on the defensive end with a couple of blocks in the final four minutes.
The senior hit a buzzer-beater at the end of the third to put his team within two at 41-39. He gave Lake Orion its first lead of the game at 43-42 with 5:12 left in the game.
“He was huge, when he shows up, we’re hard to beat,” Risi said. “He’s really a presence inside, first thing I said to him after we won the game, is thanks for showing up.”
The Dragons went up by as many as five points before Lahser came back to take the lead in the final two minutes. But they couldn't hold it.
Lake Orion’s unlikely postseason run continues Wednesday with a game against Waterford Mott at 7 p.m. in the regional finals.
“I’m kinda torn. I like the fact that we’re getting no respect, I like the fact that these guys stay hungry cause no one expects a lot from us,” Risi said. “I think a lot of people are starting to look at us and ask, what’s happening at Lake Orion?”
As for Lahser, Graves planned on telling his players to keep their heads up. He’s confident this won’t be the last regional semifinal game they play.
“We’ll be back next year,” Graves said. “No doubt.”
Notes – Yante Maten led the Knights with 14 points and had another double-double with 14 rebounds. Martez Jones was the only other player for Lahser in double-digits with 10 points. Miller finished the game with 12 points.