Lee’s Summit North makes no secret about which player it looks to feature when a game is tight and the fourth-quarter clock is ticking away.
Senior forward Imani Johnson.
So it was no coincidence Thursday that after Lee’s Summit had shaved the Broncos’ 16-point advantage to five points with 3 minutes remaining, the Broncos handed over the keys to Johnson.
And yet again, she steered them to victory, scoring six straight points to help Lee’s Summit North close out a 51-43 win against Lee’s Summit on its home floor.
Lee’s Summit North, 16-4, improved to 5-1 in the Suburban Gold Conference and remains alone atop the league standings.
“When the moment arises, you have to do what you do best,” Johnson said. “I definitely had to do something that would change the momentum up.”
Johnson finished with a team-best 20 points, and she even mixed in a pair of three-pointers, but none of her points were more important than the six she scored midway through the fourth quarter.
Lee’s Summit, 7-13, fell behind 26-10 in the second quarter, but the Tigers never let their rivals get comfortable. They slowly clawed their way back into the game in the fourth quarter.
In a span of 11 seconds, Eriyanna Jones scored back-to-back buckets — part of a 15-point evening off the bench — and Bailey Baird followed with a layup to close the gap to 45-40 with 3 minutes left.
Then Johnson went to work.
She attacked the basket on three consecutive possessions, scoring once on a layup and four times from the free-throw line to help Lee’s Summit North regain control.
“I’m looking for her to score the whole ballgame — I don’t want to wait until the game gets tight,” Lee’s Summit North coach Tricia Lillygren said. “But she does have a way of taking on the load late in ballgames. We just shouldn’t have been in that position.”
It could have been worse for Lee’s Summit North had Lee’s Summit taken advantage of its trips to the line.
Three days after upending Liberty, the previous leader in the conference, Lee’s Summit’s performance from the free-throw line hindered its chances for a second straight upset. The Tigers made made only eight of 18 free throws Thursday.
“I think we’ve been playing better as a team and making better decisions, but tonight I feel like it just came down to our free throws and layups,” said Lee’s Summit senior point guard Taylor Gilkey, who scored seven points. “If we make our free throws, it could have been a different game.”
Instead, Lee’s Summit North remains in the driver’s seat in the Suburban Gold Conference.
The Broncos have won five straight games since dropping their league opener against Liberty. They will have another shot at the Blue Jays on Monday.
“I think every team goes in with (a conference championship) as the goal,” Lillygren said. “If you want to accomplish that, you better be on your game every night. Because in this conference, anybody can come in and bite you.”