East Lincoln knew when county rival North Lincoln took their first regular-season meeting it had let a golden opportunity slip through its fingers.
The result was the Mustangs being ticked off and if Fridayâ€™s 78-41 victory was any indication of just how mad they are, they may be on a collision course with the Southern Piedmont Conference Tournament Championship.
The home team took a 38-23 lead into the locker room at halftime and never looked back. Senior Trishtan Johnson, who scored a game-high 25 points, felt he and his team had a point to prove.
â€œWe just wanted to get our revenge, beat them and smack them in their mouth. There was a lot of talk about them beating us the first time and them being better than us,â€ he said. â€œI think Coach (David) Johnson is a good coach and I respect him a lot. North Lincoln has a good team and we knew we had to play as hard as we could to beat them,â€ he added.
While Johnson did the scoring, fellow senior Thomas Huntley did the glass work, ripping down 11 rebounds to go along with six points, five assists and three steals playing in his final regular-season home game.
North Lincoln seniors Kenny Bethea and Kyle Baker both finished in double-figures with 14 and 10 respectively, but the Mustangs were just too much. In addition to Johnsonâ€™s 25 points, his backcourt mate Jamelle Lowery contributed 14 points and hauled in seven boards.
â€œFirst time, we thought they were going to just lay down for us and we took them too easy. Coach (Hodges) told us we couldnâ€™t let them hang around, because they would hit some kind of shot at the end and win the ballgame,â€ Lowery said.
In the first meeting, it didnâ€™t take a last-second shot for the Knights to defend their home court. Friday, Lowery and company were determined to jump on them early and put them away.
â€œThis game we went out with a lot of intensity and we had to prove even though they beat us the first time we were the better team,â€ he said.
Freshman Keith Rendleman and fellow freshman Spencer Sydney both gave the Mustangsâ€™ faithful good reason to smile about the programâ€™s future.
Rendleman finished with eight points, while Sydney scored seven points and had five assists. Sophomore Alex Newsome had six points and five blocked shots.
Up next for the Mustangs will be No. 7 seed Bessemer City Monday night in the first round of the Southern Piedmont Conference Tournament.
And although host East Lincoln swept the Yellow Jackets in the regular season, Johnson and Lowery arenâ€™t overlooking them.
â€œWe got to keep our intensity up. We canâ€™t let a win get to us or overlook anybody because from here on out if you lose, it means youâ€™re out,â€ Johnson said.
â€œThe first time we played them, we beat them pretty bad. The second time, we took them too easy. Weâ€™re going to go out there, play hard and not overlook anybody from here on out,â€ Lowery said.
North Lincoln, the Southern Piedmontâ€™s No. 5 seed, will visit No. 4 Highland Tech in the first round.
â€œWeâ€™re excited about the chance to play. The boys are looking forward to it. We have a lot to prove because we donâ€™t feel like weâ€™ve played to our potential this year,â€ North Lincoln head coach David Johnson said.
â€œHighland Tech is a strong team and we look forward to the challenge,â€ he added.
The Knights split the regular season versus the Rams winning the first game 64-55 at home before losing at Highland Tech 61-53.
Senior Jamelle Lowery scored 14 points and ripped down seven boards against the Knights. Lowery and Johnson, who are also neighbors, are the top guard combo in the Southern Piedmont Conference. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
by John Mark Brooks