John Stein is healthy again, and it's no coincidence that Lexington Christian Academy's basketball team is playing with a grind-it-out toughness that earned it a 49-40 district victory over Lafayette Friday night.
Stein, a 6-foot senior point guard, was sidelined with a painful hip-pointer during the Christmas break, and LCA suffered on the court without his leadership.
Since he's returned to full strength, the Eagles have won four of five games, and with last night's win over Lafayette, they're tied with Lexington Catholic for the top spot in the 43rd District.
"I do try to lead the guys while I'm out there," Stein said. "We've been playing together since the fourth grade, so we have a special bond.
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"I look to them, and they look to me."
Don't look at the box score to see the full extent of Stein's presence at the point as LCA ended an eight-game losing streak to Lafayette.
He took just one shot in 25 minutes of play against the Generals, and he didn't score until he cashed one of two free throws with :39 left.
But he handled the ball against the Generals' pressure defense all night and had just two turnovers. He had four assists, a number that didn't reflect several passes into the post that Matt Rose turned into free throws. Rose had 21 points, including 11 of 13 from the foul line.
"I was a little concerned John would get worn down by the fourth quarter," LCA Coach Nate Valentine said. "I kept asking, 'Are you OK?' He said he was fine, until the last two minutes when he said he needed a timeout.
"I have confidence in our other guards, but John was doing such a great job I didn't want to change anything."
Valentine loves the way his Eagles have been locked in during close games lately, and the way they've responded.
Lafayette led 36-30 with 6:30 left, but LCA outscored the Generals 19-4 from there.
Senior guard Joe Davis came off the bench to hit a three-pointer from the corner that tied it 36-36.
"To have the guts to step in a game and make a shot like that says a lot about Joe," Valentine said.
Stein called Davis' three "crucial. We needed it so much, and it swung the momentum to us, and we really flourished from there."
LCA hit 13 of 16 foul shots in the fourth quarter, showing why it's the No. 1 free-throw shooting team in the state (79 percent).
"The reason for that is Matt Rose shoots most of our free throws," Valentine said. Rose ranks fourth in the state (137 of 157 for 87 percent).
Benton Nighbert had nine points for LCA, including a clutch three with 1:10 left. Tre King had six points and six rebounds off the bench.
Lafayette was led by T.J. Downey and Jajuante Carpenter with 10 points each. Ross Jenkins had seven points, six rebounds and four blocked shots.
Generals Coach Mike Mendenhall pointed to the foul line as the difference.
"They shot 16 free throws in the fourth quarter to our zero," he said.
Mendenhall credited LCA's defense for keeping the 6-6 Jenkins from scoring inside.
"They did a good job of taking him away and making other people beat them," he said. "And tonight our shots just weren't falling."
Lafayette shot 33 percent (16-for-48, including 5-for-22 on threes).
LCA 49, Lafayette 40
Lafayette (10-8) — Jackson 6, Carpenter 10, J.Jenkins 4, R.Jenkins 7, Lane 3, Downey 10.
Lexington Christian (13-6) — Rose 21, Stein 1, King 6, Nighbert 9, Rode 3, Trimble 4, Davis 5,
Lafayette 10 8 13 9—40
LCA 9 7 14 19—49