For a few minutes, Jayson Okanlawon seemed destined for hero status.
His three-pointer banked in at the buzzer to force overtime, and his layup staked North Babylon to an early two-point lead in the extra period.
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But then Kyle LaGuardia and Nick Grande stole the show and carried host Smithtown West to a 60-57 Suffolk III win on Thursday.
LaGuardia (18 points, nine rebounds) answered Okanlawon’s overtime layup with a short jumper to tie it at 55 and blocked Okanlawon’s layup attempt with 12 seconds left, after Grande (16 points, four assists and four steals) scored four straight points to give the Bulls a 59-57 lead.
“We’re experienced in those late-game situations,” Grande said.
No kidding. The Bulls (9-1) have played eight games decided by seven points or fewer. They have won six, including a 52-51 victory over North Babylon on Jan. 5. Grande’s buzzer-beating jumper was the winner.
“After [Okanlawon] hit that [buzzer-beater], I was never scared,” said LaGuardia, who came off the bench to score eight second-quarter points and turn a four-point deficit into a 27-22 halftime lead. “I was like, alright, that’s their buzzer beater. We had ours. We’ve just got to come together, play tough and keep doing what we do.”
After Akin Branco (12 points) converted a pull-up jumper to give North Babylon (6-5) a 57-55 lead, Grande scored on a layup and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but LaGuardia snared the offensive rebound, which led to Grande’s go-ahead, reverse layup with 1:08 remaining.
The Bulls hung on despite converting just one of their five free-throw attempts in overtime.
“I’m used to it,” coach Mike Agostino said with a laugh.
However, he and his team were not accustomed to seeing LaGuardia play at such a high level offensively. The senior had not scored more than eight points (Jan. 14 vs. Centereach) in a game all season. But he had shown a propensity for making big plays, especially on defense and the boards.
“Every game this year,” Agostino said, “he’s been the steadiest defender we’ve had. Then today his offense, which we knew was there, was there.”