The third time was supposed to be a charm for the Lincolnton Wolves Wednesday night.
But the senior-guard combo of Trishtan Johnson and Jamelle Lowery, along with some lock-down defense, had other ideas in a 59-45 victory.
In any sport, itâ€™s hard for any team to beat another three times in one season, but the Mustangs accomplished that rare feat.
â€œItâ€™s been awhile since an East Lincoln team beat Lincolnton three times in one season as Coach (Hodges) told us,â€ Lowery, who had 16 points, said. â€œThen today, we saw they were receiving votes in the Sweet 16, so that was motivation for us because we felt we are better than them,â€ he added.
East Lincoln surged out to a 13-4 advantage, courtesy of an 11-0 spurt, in the first six minutes of the contest.
Johnson, who had five of those 13 points to get his team rolling, feels the Mustangsâ€™ confidence is sky-high right now.
â€œRight now, weâ€™re going in there real strong. Everybody has their intensity up, weâ€™re ready to play ball and we think weâ€™re going to go in there and give them our best shot,â€ he said of Cherryville, who heâ€™ll meet for the third time on the season Friday for the Southern Piedmont Conference tournament championship.
â€œWe know weâ€™re going to receive their best shot,â€ he added.
Lincolnton, who was led in scoring by Zack Gibson with only nine points, never got in a rhythm and looked flat the majority of the game.
â€œWhen we play defense the way weâ€™re capable of playing, weâ€™re a pretty good club,â€ East Lincoln head coach Neil Hodges said. â€œTonight, we came out and shut them down. That was the key to the gameâ€”end of sentence, end of paragraph,â€ he added.
If the Mustangs seem a little cocky, coach included, itâ€™s because they have every right to as winners of eight out of 10, including victories over Cherryville and two over Lincolnton.
Winners of eight straight, East will try to do what they couldnâ€™t quite complete at Christmas time or in the regular seasonâ€”win a title.
â€œ21-5 is a good year and Iâ€™m happy for the kids because theyâ€™ve worked extremely hard. Anytime you beat Lincolnton three times in one year, thatâ€™s pretty good,â€ Hodges said.
Four points from P.J. Hamright and a layup by Lance Friday comprised a 6-0 run to whittle the lead to 12, 43-31, but thatâ€™s as close as they would come.
Both Johnson and Lowery, the two-headed scoring machine known as â€˜TJ,â€™ netted 16 points. Sophomore big man Alex Newsome had nine and four blocked shots.
Demery Brewer and P.J. Hamright scored eight apiece and Friday finished with seven for the Wolves.
â€œIt was a nice team effort. I thought everybody played hard and everybody played together. They moved the ball well. I just thought it was a total-team effort,â€ Hodges said, reluctant to give any one player praise.
Wednesdayâ€™s win sets up another meeting of the two conference powers, a match-up Lowery knows the Ironmen are eagerly anticipating.
â€œWe beat them on their home court, so theyâ€™re probably a little upset,â€ he said. â€œTheyâ€™re probably going to come out and play their best ball, but we got to take all their shots, come out and execute, not let the crowd get in our head and just win that thang,â€ he added.
No doubt that 77-72 victory will be fresh on the minds of the Ironmen Friday night, but Hodges is more concerned about how his team executes, particularly on defense against a potent offense.
â€œWe have a couple of wrinkles we can use. The last time, down there, at Cherryville we used a couple of them and I hope it carries over,â€ he said. â€œThey got a good inside/outside game, so thatâ€™s something weâ€™ll have to talk about tomorrow (Thursday) in practice,â€ he added.
6-foot-7 sophomore center Alex Newsome scored nine points and blocked four shots in Wednesdayâ€™s game.
Chris Dean / LTN Photoby John Mark Brooks