WINTER GARDEN — It was halftime, the West Orange Warriors were trailing the Ocoee Knights by 12, 38-26, and head coach Eric Jones issued a challenge to his team.
“I just told them at halftime, I was like ‘(Ocoee) challenged us and we didn’t step up to the challenge,’” Jones said. “So I said ‘let’s see what kind of team you want to be — are you going to be a team that steps up to the challenge or not?’”
The Warriors responded by stepping up to the challenge.
West Orange (6-3) outscored Ocoee 28-15 in the third quarter and — after the two teams finished regulation tied at 73-73 — outdueled the Knights (8-3) in overtime to score a big win, 86-82.
Although Ocoee scored over 80 points and Knights star Grant Riller tied a career-best with 39 points, it was the Warriors’ ability to get stops in the second half that proved to be the defense.
“We really stepped it up on defense,” Jones said. “We’ve been trying to sell defense to them. That was the bulk of the halftime speech — ‘defense wins championships, offense sells tickets.’”
Quinton Forrest led West Orange with 26 points. Decary Croaker added 19, Jeremiah Thornton came off the bench to provide 18, including several big buckets down the stretch, and Shamel Thomas — starting in place of Thornton, who was sick the day before — scored 12 points in the win.
“Shamel, I felt like he did a very good job stepping in and making some big buckets,” Jones said. “Jeremiah was fresh so he comes in and he plays like he’s been playing.”
Vaughn McCall added 11 points for Ocoee and Demerit Brown had 10 points. The Knights have now lost three of their past four games after beginning the season 7-0. Ocoee will return to the hardwood on Friday against Apopka on the road.
West Orange will take on Boone on the road on Friday, with tip-off at 7 p.m.