It was the kind of moment senior Jamelle Lowery had been waiting for.
Lincolntonâ€™s Lance Friday cut the lead to seven, at 47-40, just inside seven minutes to play in the game.
With his team needing him, the 5 foot 10 inch guard nailed two three-pointers in the next three minutes, helping the Mustangs (6-2) hang on to defeat Lincolnton 65-58 Friday night in the Southern Piedmont opener.
â€œMy team was playing down, and Iâ€™m a senior, so I had to step up and make plays,â€ Lowery said.
Playing in their first basketball game of the season, the Wolvesâ€™ sloppy play helped the Mustangs surge out to a 13-0 lead.
East Lincolnâ€™s head coach Neil Hodges said the quick start was something he stressed before the game.
â€œWe thought it was important to get off to a good start and we did,â€ said Hodges. â€œWe played with a lot of energy and a lot of effort in the first quarter.â€
A Friday basket, plus the foul, put Lincolnton on the scoreboard with three minutes and 32 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
With two minutes and 46 seconds to play in the half, senior Trishtan Johnson extended the home teamâ€™s lead to 28-15.
But Lincolnton answered with a 6-0 run, highlighted by a Zack Gibson three-pointer cutting the deficit to seven at 28-21 with one minute and 42 seconds remaining.
Johnson, who had 10 points in the second quarter alone, answered the Wolvesâ€™ run with five straight points of his own in just 10 seconds, putting the Mustangs back on control 33-21.
Down 35-23 to begin the second half, senior Demery Williams ignited an 8-0 run by the Wolves, forcing Hodges to take two quick timeouts to negate further damage.
The move worked as Alex Newsome and Lowery stopped the bleeding by putting the Mustangs up 39-31 with 3:42 left in the third.
Back-to-back Matt Wright lay-ups helped Lincolnton whittle the lead to 45-39 with 54 seconds remaining in the third.
But Johnson, once again, calmly knocked down a jumper to give his team an eight-point advantage entering the fourth quarter.
Junior point guard Phillip Robinson kept the Wolves in the game with eight of his 12 in the fourth quarter, but Lowery was determined not to let his county rivals get the best of him, as the Wolves could only close the gap to seven with two minutes remaining.
At the half, it was Johnson who had done the damage for the Mustangs with 15.
Maybe Lowery was just saving his, as he nailed three of his five three-pointers in the final quarter.
In a microcosm of the game, Wolvesâ€™ defenders were just a step late getting through screens as Lowery made them pay from behind the arc.
Loweryâ€™s career-high of 24 points was also a game-high as Johnson added 19.
â€œWhile they were guarding me, he was taking advantage of the defense. When they were guarding me, I took advantage,â€ Lowery said.
Stellar play from the experienced back court is not only needed for the Mustangs to win, but is necessary.
â€œI hope (Johnson and Lowery) continue to lead us, and I expect them to. Theyâ€™re a good team together and we just have to dot some Iâ€™s, cross some Tâ€™s and get smarter in late-game situations,â€ Hodges said of one of the Southern Piedmontâ€™s best guard combo.
A frustrated Wolvesâ€™ head coach Bob Cowie was pleased with his teamâ€™s want-to.
â€œOur effort was great tonight. Our execution is obviously not where it needs to be with our slow start,â€ Cowie said.
East Lincoln started the season off with back-to-back losses to East Gaston and Lake Norman.
Since then, to say theyâ€™ve been on a roll would be an understatement as theyâ€™ve reeled off six straight wins.
â€œItâ€™s just playing as a team and knowing all the plays. Me and Jamelle, we pick it up, and everybody else picks it up with us,â€ Johnson said.
The two teams wonâ€™t meet again until Jan. 20, but Cowie already had it in his mind after the game.
â€œWeâ€™re going to get another chance at East Lincoln at home in January, and it will be different,â€ Cowie said.
Sophomore Alex Newsome complemented the back court of Lowery and Johnson with 10 points of his own. Thomas Huntley, not seen, was a force on the boards. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
by John Mark Brooks