Special to LTN
PUMPKIN CENTER â€” Excuse North Lincoln coach Eric King and his team if they had to double check the GPS coordinates for the location of Friday nightâ€™s conference contest against West Lincoln.
After all, the Knights had not played on their home court in nearly a month. But it was like riding a bike for North Lincoln as the Knights settled in to their familiar surroundings, scored the gameâ€™s first 11 points and won for the fourth time in five games at home this season, 60-24.
â€œThe guys were anxious to come back home, itâ€™s been a while since we played a home game. I think our last home game was â€” I canâ€™t tell you â€” it was way before Christmas,â€ said King, whose team last played on its home court Dec. 9 against Alexander Central.
â€œThey were excited to come back and they knew they would have a good strong, crowd tonight. That was important to them. After that, it did kind of snowball for West.â€
The Knights improved to 3-2 in the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A and 9-4 overall, while West Lincoln fell to 0-5 and 1-12.
It was a tough outing for the Rebels, who struggled offensively. They connected on just eight field goals â€” four in both halves â€” and leading scorer Kyle Wyatt was frustrated from the start.
â€œThat was huge, that was our main focus going in â€” control Wyatt and thatâ€™s what we did â€” we shut him down pretty much,â€ said North Lincoln junior Hunter Caldwell, who scored seven points, to go along with five steals and four assists. â€œEven though we missed a lot of shots, we made up for it on defense.â€
Houston Gilmore led the Rebels with eight points, Alec Bruning scored five and Wyatt was held to three points after scoring West Lincolnâ€™s first basket of the game.
â€œWe couldnâ€™t hit anything,â€ Rebels coach Karl Sain said. â€œI think we were 5 for 24 on twos and 3 for 15 on threes. We couldnâ€™t hit a free throw (5 for 18). We just couldnâ€™t get it going.â€
After the quick start, North Lincoln led 18-4 after the opening quarter. The Rebels fought back to 19-9 on Gilmoreâ€™s three-pointer with 4:26 left in the half. From there, the Knights closed the half on an 11-2 run as Travis Cannon scored six points off three turnovers in the final 1:20 of the half to give the Knights a 30-11 halftime advantage.
In the fourth quarter, Max Caldwell came off the bench to score five points and Brandon Edwards four more as the Knightsâ€™ bench sparked a 13-2 run in the first four minutes to make it 54-19.
Gray Brotherton led North Lincoln with 11 points and 11 rebounds, Cannon added 10, while Christian Ramos and both Caldwells scored seven apiece.
King was pleased that the Knights didnâ€™t get complacent after building the early lead.
â€œThatâ€™s always a threat when youâ€™re also playing a rival,â€ said King, whose team plays at Lake Norman Charter on Tuesday. â€œYou know if you give them an opportunity, the momentum is going to swing. It can be a close game from there.
â€œI thought they tried to do a couple of things to try and get back in the game. We switched defenses a few times and I was real proud of our guys, regardless of who I had in. We kept up the defensive intensity.â€
West Lincoln tries to bounce back Tuesday at Bessemer City.
â€œWeâ€™re struggling right now,â€ Sain said. â€œWe have three seniors and only one of them was on the team last year. So we have a young team, we have one go-to player and weâ€™re trying to find pieces to complement him. Weâ€™ve got good play to get people open, weâ€™re not hitting those shots.â€