The North Lincoln Knights won their home season opener Tuesday night beating the West Lincoln Rebels 77-74.
Using an aggressive match-up zone and West Lincoln first-game jitters the Knights jumped out to an early 11-4 lead midway through the first quarter.
Junior Tristan Johnson paced the Knights with 23 pointsâ€”with 14 of them coming in the critical fourth quarter.
Five straight points by Rebelsâ€™ guard Gene Arp brought the Rebels to within five points 54-49 with 6:31 left in the fourth quarter.
The Knights quickly answered as Peyton Brady was fouled attempting a three-pointer. Brady made 2-of-3 from the charity stripe. A Johnson lay-up pushed the lead back to 58-49 with 6:20 remaining.
With 5:37 left, West Lincolnâ€™s Ben Poole nailed a three-pointer making the score 60-51. North Lincoln was unfazed.
Johnson, who had to leave the game with four minutes to go in the third after picking up his fourth foul, converted a three-point play to push the lead back to 12.
It appeared the game was over, but West Lincoln refused to roll over. An Arp assist to Poole for a lay-up followed by Ryan Huffman free throws made the score 65-60 with 3:59 left in the game.
Josh Fisher converted a lay-up with 3:41 remaining to narrow the margin to three at 65-62.
Fisher on the ensuing possession made another lay-up. Hustling back down court he forced a turnover. Huffman took advantage tying the game at 66.
Alex Loftin for North was impressed by West Lincolnâ€™s 8-1 run and nailed perhaps the biggest shot of the night. Loftin stroked a three-pointer from right side with 1:57 left to put the Knights back up 69-66.
A Brady steal and two free throws made pushed the lead back to five, 71-66, with 1:40 to play.
A Kenny Bethea jumper with 34 seconds left seemed to have West dead in the water for a second time. The Rebels responded again as Huffman, who had 15 fourth-quarter points was fouled shooting a three with 16.4 on the clock.
The senior showed great poise knocking down all three to make it a one possession game 75-73. Johnson was fouled on a lay-up attempt and made two free throws to essentially seal the game.
Huffman led the Rebels with 23 points. Poole added 13 points, while teammates Fisher and Daniel Payseur both had 11. Arp chipped in nine points.
Bethea had a solid game with 12 points. Miquan Smith had an efficient 10 points. Trey Whiteside had eight. Teammates Loftin and Brady both had seven in the win.
The win matches the Knightsâ€™ season win total from last year.
Head coach David Johnson, who made his debut at North with a win, was proud of his kids.
â€œWeâ€™re very excited for the boys. Itâ€™s a small first step, but weâ€™re really impressed with the improvement they made,â€ he said.
Johnson believed that his junior guard was the difference-maker.
â€œHe (Trishtan Johnson) played very well. We took Trishtan out and he understood what he had to do when we put him back in. He understood the challenge. In the fourth quarter, he took it upon himself and ran the game.â€
Johnson humbly reflected on his dominant final-quarter performance.
â€œI just tried real hard and tried to help out the team. You know pick it up a little bit, so we could win the game,â€ he said.
â€œMy dad told me not to foul anymore (when I picked up my fourth) and to think, so we could pick up our first win,â€ he added.
Huffman said his 15 points in the fourth came after a realization on his part.
â€œI realized I couldnâ€™t hit an outside shot, so I just tried to push it and draw fouls. We didnâ€™t really want to lose this game. We didnâ€™t want to start the season off with a loss, but we fell behind too soon,â€ he said.
Rebelsâ€™ head coach Chad Wright believed he knew the reason for the loss.
â€œOur inexperience really showed tonight, but weâ€™re confident in the players we have on this team that we can develop as a group, as well as individually, and be a good ball club.â€
Knights 77- Tristan Johnson 23, Kenny Bethea 12, Miquan Smith 10, Trey Whiteside 8, Peyton Brady 7, Alex Loftin 7, David Ward 4, Reid Ketner 2, Matt Kight 2, Lucas Bowmen 2.
Rebels 74- Ryan Huffman 23, Ben Poole 13, Josh Fisher 11, Daniel Payseur 11, Gene Arp 9, Taylor Woodie 6, Ben Hickman 5.
Womenâ€™s varsity game
The North Lincoln Lady Knights spoiled Jamie Boylesâ€™ varsity coaching debut beating the Rebels 47-29.
The Knights held a 22-14 lead at halftimeâ€”a lead they would not relinquish. A big reason for North Lincolnâ€™s first win of the season was the play of a freshman.
Kayla Alexander paced the Knights in her first game scoring 15 points. Alyssa Lowe, Brittany Reel and Jesse Devine each scored eight for the Knights. Caroline Farris chipped in with six.
Tamika Werts led West Lincoln with 13 points. Sara Elmore contributed eight, while teammate Anna Knight had five points in the losing cause.
North Lincolnâ€™s head coach Mark Lackey was impressed with Alexanderâ€™s play.
â€œIt was a great game for a freshman. She got loose and we were able to run her off some screens in the second half and she nailed down some big shots for us,â€ he said.
What was the Knightsâ€™ goal entering the game according to the coach?
â€œOur intent was to put as much pressure on the basketball as we possibly could. We started out in one defense and we had some holes in it, but we closed it down and went into a 2-3 zone. We kinda inverted it into a 2-1-2.â€
â€œItâ€™s a great confidence builder for the kids. Last year the wins we had were by an average of four points, so itâ€™s great to start the season with this kind of win,â€ Lackey added.
Boyles was disappointed by the loss, but isnâ€™t going to let it discourage her teamâ€™s direction.
â€œWe have a lot of work to do this season, but I have a lot of hopes for this team,â€ she said.
Knights- Kayla Alexander 15, Jesse Devine 8, Brittany Reel 8, Alyssa Lowe 8, Caroline Farris 6, Lindsey Smith 5, Sara McCall 4, Kathryn Thorne 1.
Rebels- Tamika Werts 13, Sara Elmore 8, Anna Knight 5, Katie Davis 2, Holly Wellman 1. by John Mark Brooks