The London Lightning dug themselves out of a deep hole Thursday night, only to fall back into it.
The Lightning, who trailed by 18 with about two minutes left in the first half after being outscored 40-22 in the second quarter, battled back with 67 second-half points to force overtime at 114-114, only to let the Highlanders put them away in extra time for a 129-122 National Basketball League of Canada win at Budweiser Gardens.
Bruce Massey led the Highlanders (12-7) with 42 points — 12 of them in overtime.
“We’ve gotta really start playing for more than 40 minutes a game because when we play for 40 and we leave the other eight out there, not playing hard, the other teams score on us,” a frustrated Lightning coach Elliott Etherington said.
“I think we did enough to get in the game and the guys know they will do more to win. They made that clear to me. The good thing is that we’ve got a group here that I didn’t need to say much. They made it evident. They will be ready to go next game. They are warriors.”
Maurice Bolden led the Lightning (8-9) with 29 points — 23 in the second half. Alex Johnson had 20 and Marvin Phillips scored 19 and had 14 rebounds.
“In the second quarter, we didn’t play well at all on the offensive or the defensive end,” Bolden said. “Down the stretch, as veterans we have to do better. We turned the ball over in the clutch. There were shots we turned down that we should have taken.
“We have to know what we want and we have to be mentally tough. We have to be more physical, driving the basketball and attacking the rim.”
Kirk Williams Jr. had 13 points for the Bolts, AJ Gaines 12 and Jaylen Babb-Harrison and Xavier Moon had 10 points each.
Jamal Reynolds scored 25 points for the Highlanders, Chris Johnson had 18, George Williams 13, Tanner Giddings 12 and Aaron Redpath 10.
The Lightning came out strong in the second half, cutting the Highlanders lead to 66-61 four minutes into the third quarter, but Cape Breton led 92-81 at the end of three quarters.
The Bolts pulled to 99-98 with about 7:30 left in game, going on a 7-0 run when Marcus Capers made two foul shots, Johnson hit a three-pointer and Bolden drove to the net for a layup.
The Lightning got something they badly needed for Christmas in signing Johnson in late December.
The 30-year-old Toronto native has been a proven performer on the court over five NBL of Canada seasons, but Johnson brings much more to the equation.
“The No. 1 thing I was happy about when we picked him up wasn’t the basketball player,” Etherington said. “I was happy that we brought in a person of his calibre. He’s a great guy on and off the court . . . and the young guys see that and they want to emulate that.”
Johnson understands the game and he understands the league, the coach said. “And that can’t be overstated.”
Etherington said Johnson leads by example through his preparation and knowledge of the game. “He comes in as an absolute professional and he helps out in the locker room that way.”
Johnson sat out a couple months to recuperate after playing in Ecuador and has taken a few games to find his form, but he had 11 points and five assists off the bench in London’s 100-93 home win over Sudbury on Sunday afternoon.
“I feel like it’s coming each and every game,” he said before Thursday’s game. “I’m just gaining confidence, especially with this group. . . . We have so many talented pieces. It’s just a matter of putting everything together.”
Moon, the Lightning starting point guard, sees Johnson as a welcome addition.
“He’s been a huge help to me,” Moon said. “Him being a veteran and me being in my second year (as a professional). Just talking to him and watching him and working with him in practice, he’s really helping me a lot.”
Johnson and Moon are in constant communication on and off the court and Moon says he is benefiting most from working with the veteran in practice.
“We’re always talking about things that I can do better, things that he sees that I might not see,” the 24-year-old Moon said. “He’s always giving me pointers.”
Johnson is finding satisfaction in his mentoring role — teaching leadership on the court, when to try to score and when to pass as well as when to slow things down and when to push the tempo of a game.
“Xavier has been really great for us in the games that I’ve been here and I’m just trying to teach him what I didn’t have at his age,” Johnson said. “He’s been pretty good. He’s a humble kid and he’s really just looking for guidance — looking for someone to show him the ropes, which makes my job easier.”
Johnson said communication and defence are the keys to keep the Lightning headed in the right direction.
“I feel that when we are really good defensively, it’s when we are talking,” Johnson said. “When we can limit teams to 100 points, that’s when we are really good.
“That’s our type of game. If we can get stops, I know we are going to score because we have so many talented players.”
Highlanders 129, Lightning 122 OT
London scoring: Maurice Bolden 29, Alex Johnson 20, Marvin Phillips 19, Kirk Williams Jr. 13, AJ Gaines 12, Jaylen Babb-Harrison 10, Xavier Moon 10.
Cape Breton scoring: Bruce Massey 42, Jamal Reynolds 25, Chris Johnson 18, George Williams 13, Tanner Giddings 12, Aaron Redpath 10.
Next: at Windsor Express, Saturday, 7 p.m.; vs. Saint John Riptide, Sunday, 2 p.m., at Budweiser Gardens
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