CALUMET TWP. — Calumet and Lake Station were tied atop the Greater South Shore Conference boys basketball standings entering Friday night, and with a chance to take the lead in conference play neither team backed down.
The Eagles shared the GSSC title last season, and a win over the Warriors would have earned them at least a share of the conference title again. But instead of repeating as conference champions for the first time in school history, it was the Warriors who escaped with a 70-67 home victory.
Sophomore Jerell Johnson only made one field goal, a 3-pointer in the third quarter, but he knocked down all six of his free throws over the last few minutes of the game to help Calumet (10-6, 5-1) earn its fourth straight win.
"I felt confident," Johnson said. "I knew in practice coach had us shooting free throws for a reason. We shoot free throws all practice, so I just got up there and I was confident I was gonna make it. I shot the free throws, and I knew they were going in."
Johnson was one of eight Calumet players to score in the game, but junior guard Da'Vion Davis led the way. He poured in a game-high 30 points, while shooting 9 of 18 from the field.
The Warriors' starting shooting guard scored in a variety of ways — 3-pointers, midrange jumpers and free throws — but he was at his best when he attacked the basket.
Midway through the second quarter, Davis caught the ball on the right wing and immediately drove to the foul line. When he reached the paint, two Eagles defenders stepped up to guard him, but he spun between both of them and ended the play with a finger-roll layup off of the glass.
"Coach (Dominique) Nelson told me to attack and don't settle," Davis said. "So I just started getting to the rack and I felt it coming because (the defenders) overplayed my right hand."
The move gave Calumet a 22-16 lead and as Davis kept getting in the paint, his aggressiveness also created opportunities for his teammates.
On the last possession of the first half, Davis drove to the basket for what appeared to be another layup attempt. But as two Lake Station players rotated to him, Davis kicked the ball out to Cozell McQueen. The sophomore nailed a wide open 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Warriors a 34-25 lead.
"Cozell called my name, and I swung it and he hit the shot," Davis said. "I already knew he hit it. That's why I put (three fingers up). I got confidence in everybody on my team."
Davis continued his strong play in the second half, but the Eagles wouldn't go away quietly. Lake Station leading-scorer Dominique Smith came alive in the third quarter after being held in check during the first half. The senior scored on two pull-up jumpers and also knocked down a 3-pointer.
He finished the night with a team-high 22 points and helped the Eagles cut the lead down to one possession on multiple occasions, but Lake Station (8-5, 4-2) could never get over the hump. The Warriors led wire-to-wire in the three-point victory, and whenever Calumet needed a momentum-swinging bucket, Davis provided it.
The junior knocked down a 3-pointer at the third quarter horn to push the Warriors lead back up to 10. And even when the Eagles stopped him from scoring from the field, Davis was still effective at the free-throw line. In his second 30-point game of the season, the Warriors' leading-scorer shot a game-high 12 free throws and made 10.
"He watches his games and picks and pinpoints things he's not doing right, and he tries to fix them on the court," Nelson said. "He has an NBA-style game."
Nelson said Davis has continued to improve his skills during his career at Calumet and added that he has also become a better leader.
In Friday night's matchup with the Eagles, Davis was constantly encouraging his teammates even after they made mistakes. And as Calumet prepares for its last conference game of the season, Nelson believes Davis' ability to hold himself and his teammates accountable will pay off.
"We're at the top right now," Nelson said. "If we beat Wheeler (on Jan. 17), we're the outright conference champions."