Special to LTN
VALE â€” The North Lincoln girlsâ€™ basketball team is used to being the hunted.
And Friday night, the bullâ€™s-eye on the backs of the Lady Knights must have been bright red because West Lincoln pulled out every weapon it had in trying to hand North Lincoln its first Southern Piedmont loss of the season.
But North Lincoln absorbed one blow after another and eventually pulled away, as it has all season, for a hard-fought 67-49 victory that was closer than the final score indicated.
â€œWest Lincoln played a great ballgame,â€ North Lincoln coach Lynn Rhyne said.
â€œThey sure did. They came out, they were hustling. They wanted usâ€”big timeâ€”and thatâ€™s fine because thatâ€™s the way we like to play.â€
With the win, North Lincoln improved to 16-4 overall and 12-0 in conference play with two conference games remaining.
West Lincoln is 7-13 and 6-6 in conference.
The game played out much differently than North Lincolnâ€™s 43-point win at home Jan. 6.
On Friday, the Lady Knights struggled shooting (27 percent from the field) and were unable to put away from the Lady Rebels until the closing minutes.
â€œMy girls missed a lot of shots at the beginning, thatâ€™s still no excuse,â€ Rhyne said.
â€œThey had to come out and play and once they started getting into their rhythm they started doing better and hitting their shots.â€
Leading 32-23 entering the third quarter, North Lincolnâ€™s Nicole Paysour buried a 24-footer to put the Lady Knights up by a dozen, but West Lincoln answered in a big way.
First, Connor Sigmon answered Paysourâ€™s three with one of her own.
Then, Brook Hudson hit back-to-back 3-pointers from both sides of the court to bring the Lady Rebels to within 35-32 with 5:28 left in the quarter.
North Lincoln then looked to Ace Easter for a spark. The sophomore scored seven points, including a 3-point play and 3-pointer and Lacey Miller sank a hook shot at the buzzer to stretch the Lady Knightsâ€™ lead back to 47-37.
Molly Leathermanâ€™s 3-pointer brought the Lady Rebels to 57-49 with 2:32 remaining in the game, but North Lincoln scored the gameâ€™s final 10 points.
Easter led North Lincoln with 25 points, while Stephanie Wooten added 14 and Lauren Armstrong nine.
Hudson led West Lincoln with 11 points and Rylee Marsh scored 10.
Rhyne said her team can learn from Fridayâ€™s victory.
â€œWeâ€™re going to have to get a little more serious in practice,â€ Rhyne said.
â€œOur last couple of practices, the girls havenâ€™t been on track. We have to get right back on track to get ready for the conference tournament. We want to finish strong and get ready for the playoffs.â€
North Lincoln plays Lake Norman Charter at home Tuesday, while Bessemer City travels to West Lincoln.