BLOOMFIELD HILLS – Lahser’s bid Thursday night to regain a share of first place in the Oakland Activities Association Gold division was a lot closer than it should have been.
The Knights (13-5; 6-2 OAA Gold) were up 24 points on first-place Oxford early in the fourth quarter when the referees' whistles started to dictate the flow the of the game. Most of those whistles didn’t go Lahser’s way.
A career-high 20 points from junior Andrew Gikas helped the Knights hold on to even the season series between the teams with a 63-51 win.
“The referees didn’t keep control of the game and when they didn’t keep control of the game the kids lost control of the game,” coach Duane Graves said. “My kids got a little frazzled, but hats off to Oxford, they played hard and they played good.”
Graves, who was critical of , was more restrained Thursday, but still wasn’t happy with the way the game was called.
In the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, the referees called fouls nearly anytime an Oxford player went to the basket. Knights starters Yante Maten and Khalil Gracey fouled out during the stretch.
“It was extremely tough to have to watch the end from the bench,” Maten said.
Maten wasn’t in foul trouble until he was tagged with a technical foul in the fourth for reacting to an official’s call.
“He said ‘ohhh’ and they called a technical foul cause he reacted, then they told me if we react to another foul there would be another technical,” Graves said. “It was a touchy call.”
Graves immediately told his players on the bench to not react or say anything to the officials for the rest of the game.
The Wildcats (13-5; 6-2 OAA Gold) went on a 10-2 run and ended up outscoring Lahser 18-6 in the final five minutes. It wasn’t enough to overcome their sluggish start.
“They are bigger than us, we had to be quicker and tougher and we weren’t,” Oxford coach Paul Marfia said. “They were the tougher team in the first half. We had a lack of focus and concentration. They did a great job and I think they are the best team in the league, they showed that tonight.”
Marfia pointed to Maten’s presence in the lane as the difference maker. The sophomore finished the game with 17 points and five blocks. He also helped limit the Wildcats leading scorer Mark Hazelwood to 11 points.
To open the third quarter, Maten scored nine of his team’s first 14 points and had three blocks on the defensive end.
“Yante is a man-child,” Marfia said. “He eats up a lot of space, and sometimes those kind of shot blockers get in your psyche.”
Maten and Gikas were so effective in the first half near the basket that Lahser never had to worry about hitting a lot of outside shots.
“That was the plan,” Graves said. “I truly believe in playing inside-out, if they are going to stop us inside than we’ll go outside, but we were able to pound it inside and didn’t have to shoot 3-pointers.”
The Knights turned a slim 14-9 advantage at the end of the first to 14 points by halftime. A last second layup by Martez Jones, who finished the game with 13 points, put his team up 31-17 at the half.
With two games left to play, both teams now control their own destiny for the league championship. If Lahser and Oxford win their last two games they will be co-league champions.
“The good news is, we are still in the same boat. We win our last two games, we’re still conference champs,” Marfia said.
Lahser isn’t celebrating yet, but it was happy to be back in first.
“It feels great,” Maten said. “One of the best feelings in the world is when you practice hard and it pays off.”