LITTLE ROCK, ARK. — In one of the stranger “endings” fans may ever see, the Potawatomi Fire led the Little Rock Lightning 86-82 with 2:55 remaining in regulation as they went to a timeout. Then severe storms in the Little Rock area knocked out power at Southwest High School where the game was being played. After a long delay and consultation with TBL officials, the contest was officially suspended. Power was not expected to be restored until at least 10:30 p.m. or later on Saturday evening forcing TBL to determine that the conclusion of the contest would be played on May 27. That date is the final game of the 2023 regular season when the Lightning make their second and last visit to Shawnee. It is not known yet if that final three minutes will be played before or after the May 27 game and how the rosters will be constructed (based on the frequent roster turnover that is common for TBL). There were also initial reports of a tornado warning for the area, but that was short-lived.
Certainly, a strange ending that wasn’t really an ending for a basketball game. Weather delays and resumptions happen occasionally in outdoor sports such as football, baseball, or soccer but are unheard of for indoor sports. Fire head coach Mark Dannhoff agreed. “In my 30-plus years of coaching, I have never experienced anything like this. We will have to wait until the last weekend of the regular season to find out the outcome.”
The chaos stifled what was a back-and-forth game that was looking like it was going down to the wire. The Fire jumped out an 8-0 lead before the Lightning closed the defensive first quarter with an 18-9 run and led by one point after one period. The teams started heating up from everywhere and went to the break with the Fire holding a 47-45 edge. It was back to tighter defense in the third period and teams were tied at 66-66 going to the last stanza. The Fire had battled ahead to a slight edge in the fourth before the weather wreaked havoc on the finish.
The Fire have five players in double figures, led by T.J. Maston and Je’lon Hornbeak with 17 points each. Lyle Hexom has 16 points with eight rebounds. Hexom and Hornbeak each have made four three-pointers. All-Star guard Deshawn Munson has 14 assists, eight rebounds along with five points.
Dannhoff credited the Lightning on their play. “Little Rock is playing exceptionally well in this game and we have struggled to find our rhythm offensively. Not having Chuck Guy for pretty much all the first half and part of the second had a big effect on us, on both ends of the floor.” Guy, a recent TBL All-Star, suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter but returned to help the Fire second half rally. “Chuck came in injured in the second half and lifted us in our comeback. Just a gutsy effort and performance. Je’lon came in as well and knocked down some big shots,” Dannhoff added. All 17 points from Hornbeak have come in the second half, including 11 so far in the fourth quarter. Fire newcomer Darin Johnson has also come up big in the fourth quarter, helping the Fire take a slight lead. Johnson, who joined the Fire prior to Thursday’s game with Oklahoma, has 11 points.
How will this game end? Stay tuned and check back in SIX weeks!
Next up for the Fire is another Showdown With Shreveport on Friday night, April 21 at FireLake Arena at 7 p.m. It’s also the Pink Out for Breast Cancer game, sponsored by SSM Health-St. Anthony Hospital Shawnee. Tickets are available at potawatomifire.com/tickets.
ABOUT THE FIRE AND THE BASKETBALL LEAGUE
The Potawatomi Fire concluded their first TBL (The Basketball League) season in June 2022, winning 21 of 29 games played including the playoffs. They were 18-6 in the regular season to earn the third seed in the Central Conference portion of the playoffs. They won their first round playoff series before falling in the conference semifinal round. The Fire are the first professional basketball team owned by a Native American tribe (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) in Oklahoma. The Fire compete in the Central Conference of TBL, a men’s professional basketball league, now with nearly 50 teams in over 20 different states across the U.S. and Canada. The Fire organization was named the 2022 winner of the Jim Koch Award as TBL’s Best Ran Business, despite the Fire being a first year franchise. The dance team of the Fire, the Fire Girls, were named Best Dance Team.
The TBL season begins in February and runs through June, concluding with a championship playoff tournament. The players that make up the rosters of the TBL teams are former NCAA (Division I, II or III) or NAIA athletes. Many have played in the NBA or NBA’s developmental G-League as well as professionally overseas for several years and are continuing their careers closer to home or seeking a larger contract in another professional league.
Story by Justin Wollard • Photos by Landon Kidney