DJ Lambert liked his third-quarter buzzer beater so much, he decided to follow it with an encore.
After sinking a running 40-footer just before the end of the third period during Friday’s boys’ 26th District championship, Lambert hit a step-back jumper beyond the free-throw line with six seconds remaining, and vaulted Male to a thrilling 59-58 win over St. Xavier.
Lambert finished with a team-high 18 points and, in the process, proved to Seventh Region Coach of the Year Larry Miller that he was capable of knocking down that specific type of shot.
“That’s the shot I practice every day,” said a beaming Lambert. “Coach told me I was like 1-for-17 (for the season) with the step-back (jumper), so I had to hit it.”
Following an old-fashioned three-point play by 6-foot-9 Brock Kiesler that gave St. X a 58-57 lead with 25 seconds remaining, the Bulldogs ran a pick and roll on the other end in an attempt to free up the reliably-shooting Josh Stoner.
But with the first option covered up, Lambert got space between his defender and knocked down the game-winner to give the Bulldogs their first win over St. X since Feb. 23, 2010.
“He is a tough kid and he just refused to lose. Earlier in the game, things weren’t going well for us, but he was still diving in for loose balls or knocking down a big shot. He plays with supreme confidence,” Miller said of Lambert.
St. Xavier (19-9), ranked No. 14 in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, went 5 of 10 from behind the 3-point line in the first half to build a lead as large as 25-16. Tiger seniors Alex Jones and Justin Moody had a pair of 3-pointers each before halftime.
Senior point guard Robert Shaw, whose potentially game-winning floater bounced out as the final horn sounded Friday night, finished with a game-high 20 points and nine assists. But with three seconds left in the first half, Shaw cut through the Male defense and finished a layup to give St. X a 28-22 lead at the break.
Determined to pound the ball inside, however, Male came out on fire to begin the second half and exploded for 27 points in the third quarter with a dominating effort on the boards and in the post.
Bulldogs junior Steven Julian finished with 17 of his team’s 38 rebounds and had four crucial offensive boards during the third period that allowed his team to erase the Tigers’ lead. His offensive rebound and putback gave Male a 56-55 advantage with 2:25 remaining.
“He’s a big-time player in terms of effort and attitude,” said Miller. “(Julian) was real sick before the game, throwing up during school, and I think initially he came out and was very apprehensive because he thought he was sick. But once he realized he could play, he did a great job.”
The Bulldogs (24-9) capped a 17-9 run to end the third when Lambert streaked up court and heaved a prayer toward the basket. It sank as the third-quarter horn sounded and triggered an eruption on the Male bench and in the student section.
“When I was a junior, at our jamboree, I threw a one-handed shot from three-fourths court and hit it,” Lambert said. “That’s as close as I’ve gotten before tonight.”
Male (24-8) – Stoner 14, Lambert 18, Julian 10, Parker 9, Baker 2, Miller 4, Leon 2.
St. Xavier (19-9) – Shaw 20, Glasford 5, Jones 14, Moody 12, Kiesler 5, Burgess 1, Hardy 1.
3-point goals – Stoner, Lambert 2, Shaw, Glasford, Jones 2, Moody 4.