Lance Thomas Adjusts List

Scotch Plains-Fanwood rising junior talks about his list of schools after leading his team to quarters at the Reebok Big Time Tournament.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Even as the game appeared to be slipping from New Heights' clutches, Lance Thomas never got flustered.

In fact, the 6-8 small forward from Scotch Plains Fanwood H.S. in New Jersey ratcheted his game up a notch, allowing New Heights to escape with a 79-74 victory over the Los Angeles Stars on Sunday night and earn one of eight slots in the Reebok Big Time Tournament quarters.

It wasn't just the fact that Thomas scored 30 points. It was the way he dominated in almost every facet of the game while his team was on the ropes.

New Heights opened up a 50-33 lead early in the second half thanks to a three-pointer from forward Phil Nkrumah with 11:11 remaining in the game.

That's when the L.A. Stars turned up the defensive pressure, using a swift 20-5 run to slice the deficit to 55-53 with 6:53 to play thanks to a run-capping trey by Jonathan Gibson. Moments later, forward Jarrel Lake deadlocked the game at 61 via a pair of free throws.

New Heights was on the brink of some shallow depths, until Thomas came to the rescue.

"Once they put the pressure on us, our team got rattled up," Thomas admitted. "Basically, we needed somebody to step up, calm the team down and make the other team play our pace of game."

Thomas' pair of free throws with 3:15 to play gave New Heights the lead for good at 65-63, but the game was hardly over. Each time that the L.A. Stars responded with a basket, Thomas was there to counter.

"I called for the ball and I drew fouls," he said. "I get to the free throw line, and once I get there, it gave us a chance to slow the game down. Then after that, we locked up man to man and didn't foul them. The double bonus worked in our favor."

With 1:49 left, his midrange jumper pushed the lead to 69-66. Following a pair of Stars free throws, Thomas hit two more with 1:02 to play to inch the lead back to three. He was fouled again with 54 seconds left, and hit two more freebies to make it 73-68.

Then with 44 seconds remaining, he blocked a shot by the Stars' Mark Hill. He hustled down the floor and converted a nifty feed from Colin McIntosh to mushroom the lead to 75-68 with 33 seconds left.

Thomas earned 18 trips to the foul line against the Stars, converting 12 of those chances. He used adroit head fakes and ball fakes to keep the Los Angeles defenders off balance all game long.

Even Louisville bound 6-10 athlete deluxe Amir Johnson, who scored 31 points to lead all scorers, was unable to curtail Thomas.

"He's a great shotblocker and a tremendous athlete, but great shot blockers have to jump to block shots," Thomas pointed out. "So if you just incorporate the head fake first, nine times out of time, you are going to get fouled."

Since giving us a list of programs earlier this summer, Thomas said he's added some more to the fray. In addition to Connecticut, Duke, St. Joe's, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Kansas, Arizona and Syracuse, he's now also seriously considering Notre Dame, Florida and Texas.

"I am totally open to anybody, but these are the schools showing the most interest," he said. "Those schools have started to send me letters of interest."

Thomas will just be a junior in high school this fall, and he realized that he has plenty of time to figure out the college recruiting process.

On early Sunday evening, he was just happy to be headed to the quarters at the Big Time.

"It's a great accomplishment for our organization," Thomas said. "Nobody had heard of our team, and to make a statement as one of the top eight teams in the country is a big accomplishment. We are just going to keep moving on and try to be number one."

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