When Fort Wayne combo guard Oliver Lafayette received his starting lineup introduction, a small buzz of cheers arose Wednesday night at Tullio Arena.
By the time the first half ended, a fan said the following to him:
“Hey Oliver, we still love you, man.”
The way Lafayette shot the ball probably made some Erie fans wish he was still a BayHawk.
Lafayette scored 25 first-half points on a ridiculous 9-of-9 shooting from the field in the 21 minutes, 42 seconds. He was an amazing 5-of-5 from the 3-point line.
Now Lafayette cooled off in the second half, the Mad Ants lost 109-87, but Lafayette showed the BayHawks, their coach John Treloar and their fans he’s a pretty darn good player.
“Coach realize I’m a player and a force to be reckoned with,” said Lafayette, who finished with a season-high 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting. “Coming into this game, I didn’t have any grudges. I just wanted to lead my team to a victory.”
Lafayette averaged 13.6 points as starter for the BayHawks last season and was known for his 3-point shooting.
Since joining Fort Wayne after being released in Erie’s training camp this season, Lafayette has shown a more complete game.
Take a look
PPG. 13.6 (w/Erie), 14.3 (w/FW); FG%: 39.7 (w/Erie), 44.8 (w/FW). 3PT FG% 32.8 (w/Erie), 41.2 (w/FW).
The biggest difference for Lafayette is in his assist totals.
In 36 games with Erie, Lafayette had 140 assists. In half that many games with Fort Wayne, Lafayette has 125 assists. He’s had at least 10 assists in five games this season for Fort Wayne.
Now Lafayette will likely have more turnovers with Fort Wayne (58) than he did with Erie (63), but he’s handling the ball more now. In three games against Erie this season, Lafayette has 19 assists to only seven turnovers.
For Lafayette, Fort Wayne has given him a chance to display his total game. He’s setting up the offense and does a sound job running the pick-and-roll offense with a big man.
“It’s big for me,” Lafayette said after the Jan. 9 win against Erie. “That was my knock. Can I be a point guard, but that’s big. These guys make it easy for me. They know where to get for their spots. I don’t have to do a lot of fussing. These guys make it easy for me. I got good guys around me. It’s easy to be a point guard.
In Lafayette’s mind, he was reduced to being a specialist in Erie.
“Just giving me the opportunity,” said Lafayette, whose head coach at Fort Wayne is Joey Meyer, the son of Hall of Fame coach Ray Meyer. “Just not sticking me in the corner and making me a shooter. Fort Wayne gave me an opportunity to mature my game. I know I’ve been had it, but while you’re sitting in the corner, you never can show anybody anything.”
Now Lafayette was one of Erie four returners to this season’s training camp.
Then on the final day of camp, Treloar released Lafayette and guard Rod Wilmont, who scored 23 points in a preseason game for Erie ironically against Fort Wayne.
A week after getting released, Lafayette and Wilmont joined Fort Wayne, thus beginning the countdown to which those two were going to take on Erie.
The timer buzzer sounded Jan. 9.
Lafayette came back to Erie to score 16 points and dish out nine assists in a 89-87 win. The next day, the BayHawks bashed the Mad Ants, 100-70, and Lafayette didn’t make a field goal on eight attempts.
So Wednesday was the rubber match and Lafayette came out as if he had something to prove.
Boy did he ever prove something.
“Oliver is a great scorer and if he’s playing any of the other 15 teams, I’m pulling for him,” Treloar said. “On the nights we’re playing him, I want him to miss.”
(FYI: Mark Feb. 10 on the calendar. The Mad Ants will return in Erie for a 7 p.m. game. Now back to our regularly scheduled program).
Lafayette was not only launching and splashing those rainbow 3-pointers in the first half, but he was hitting runners over Erie’s best defender – Jackie Manuel, who is three inches taller than the 6-foot-2 Lafayette.
At at one point in the game during a time out, Wilmont came out to greet the players. He walked up to Lafayette smiling and said, “You’re on fire.”
Lafayette just laughed. Then he proceeded to continue making tough shots, chattering with the Erie bench and having a blast.
“You have games like that or times like that when players come out really hot,” Manuel said. “At that time, you don’t have answer.”
He began the second half just as strong.
Lafayette made his sixth straight 3-pointer and then flipped up a scoop shot that stopped on the back of the rim before rolling in and drew the foul on the play.
Then he got cold. Then he got in foul trouble. Then after the BayHawks tightened up defensively on him.
All those factored resulted in him shooting 3-of-9 in the second half and scoring just two points in the fourth quarter. He was 1-of-5 from the field, missing both his 3-point attempts before fouling out.
“We came out in the second half and did a better job of making him uncomfortable,” Manuel said. “Making him shoot tougher shots.”
So Lafayette left Tullio Arena with a loss, but still had reason to smile.
He earned Erie’s respect that night.