The North Lincoln Knights won their first round playoff game against Andrews in an overtime squeaker. After a four-hour bus ride against Hiwassee Dam, they would not be as dramatic, dropping their second-round opponents 105-87.
To say the Knights are peaking at the right time would be a major understatement. Previously, the most the Knights had scored in a game was 88, coming in an earlier season match-up with county rival Lincolnton.
Head coach David Johnson believed it was his teamâ€™s determination and focus that led to the surprising blowout win.
â€œI think it was the boys determined to do well. That was a good team, but we took advantage of several turnovers. They had to play more aggressive which caused more turnovers and the lead grew,â€ he said.
In what has become a staple for the Knights, they had four players in double figures led by Kenny Betheaâ€™s 22 points and Alex Loftinâ€™s 21. Trishtan Johnson and Lasharion had 19 and 18 respectively.
â€œThatâ€™s helped us throughout the year. Itâ€™s hard for a team to pick one person to focus on. Throughout the year, one will struggle, but weâ€™ll have another guy to step up and the lead the team,â€ Johnson said.
Perhaps, the recent Knightsâ€™ resurgence has to do with the fact they limped to the end of the regular season after riding high for most of the season. Johnson believes that taught his team the importance of being focused.
â€œWe did at that one other point, then we kind of struggled. I think that helped us learn that we have to focus on each and every game,â€ he said.
One concern Johnson had entering their second round game was the long bus ride. His team showed no ill-effects.
â€œWith it being such a long drive, I wanted the boys to come out aggressive from the start. Good defense led to offense. It was like the score said, it was very balanced throughout the team, everybody played well that game,â€ he said.
Now North Lincoln will turn their attention to Rosman (21-4), who beat Cherryville to reach the sectional finals.
â€œThey like to shoot threes, like to run and have one dominant post player. They prefer a zone and struggle playing man, so weâ€™re going to force them to play man some,â€ Johnson said.
So did Johnson, who had previously coached on the recreational level and girls at Lincolnton High, ever fathom in his wildest dreams having this type of success after a 1-23 season?
â€œI had my expectations and yes weâ€™ve definitely passed those goals. I knew they had the potential, but whether or not we could actually tap it, I didnâ€™t know. At this point, no matter what they achieve will be icing on cake. Weâ€™ve achieved far more than what we thought we could,â€ he said.
â€œThe boys have something they can really be proud of,â€ he added.
Johnson does too, as his team has bought into his belief it takes a TEAM and not a group of individuals. The young coach also receives credit for recognizing his teamâ€™s athleticism and letting them run. The biggest tweak he made was moving Lesharion Johnson to point guard which has paid off huge dividends.
With only Lesharion Johnson, Justin Thompson and Miquan Smith being seniors, the Knightsâ€™ basketball program appears to be in good shape for several years to come. With the JV program, coached by Jay Thompson going 19-3, 11-1 en route to a Southern Foothillsâ€™ Conference Championship and only losing three on the season, the future appears very bright.
Thatâ€™s the future, for now theyâ€™ll turn their attention to keeping this Cinderella story going and not allowing Rosman, who went unblemished in the Smoky Mountain Conference, to turn the clock to midnight.
â€œIâ€™ve got to get them to focus on the game and not on the fact itâ€™s the sectional finals. For them to be undefeated says a lot about them. Weâ€™ve got to take it as a game and take care of that, then everything else will fall into place.â€
by John Mark Brooks