DENVER â€” The North Lincoln Knights led the East Lincoln Mustangs through the first three quarters of Fridayâ€™s final game of the regular season.
With six minutes left to play, East Lincoln junior Tyler Brock hit a three-pointer to put the Mustangs ahead 34-33.
With that basket, as North Lincoln head coach Eric King said, â€œthe momentum shifted.â€
â€œWe couldnâ€™t buy a shot, and we had to step out of our game a little to put some more pressure on them than what we normally would do,â€ King said. â€œBasketball is a game of momentum and we werenâ€™t able to keep it.â€
The Mustangs outscored the Knights 19-7 during the final six minutes of the game, and made 14 of 18 free throw attempts.
The win over the Knights was especially important to East Lincoln senior Antwaine McLean, who finished second in scoring with 15 points behind Brock on the Mustangsâ€™ senior night.
â€œWe pulled everything together as a team and got all of the loose balls and rebounding, and the game changed,â€ he said. â€œCoach Hodges said once we start boxing out and getting the loose balls the game will change, and it did. I knew this was my last time with this team and I told them to play their hearts out for me, and they did. My team stepped up for me tonight.â€
After Brockâ€™s three-pointer, McLean hit a long-range shot near the baseline to put the Mustangs ahead 37-33. East Lincoln sophomore Charlie Hill made a free throw to give the Mustangs a 38-33 lead before North Lincolnâ€™s Travis Cannonâ€™s two free throws cut East Lincolnâ€™s lead down to three points.
Hills was fouled going up to the basket for a layup on the next possession, and hit two free throws for a five-point lead.
The Mustangs outscored the Knights 9-5 during the final minute of the game, capped off by a dunk by Hills with five seconds left that nearly brought the standing-room crowd onto the court.
Brock led the Mustangs in scoring with 21 points, followed by McLean and Hillsâ€™ 11 points. Cannon led the Knights with 18 points as the only North Lincoln player to hit double digits.
East Lincoln head coach Neil Hodges said February is when he wants his team to play its best basketball.
â€œYou have different stages you go through during the season, and we always want to be playing our best basketball right now,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s always nice to get wins in January, but this is when it counts. Early in the year we had several different lineups, with injuries and a lot of things that didnâ€™t work out. It sounds like Iâ€™m making excuses but Iâ€™m not, weâ€™re just getting better and better each time out.â€
No. 4 North Lincoln hosts No. 5 Lake Norman Charter at 7:30 p.m. today in the first round of conference tournament play. The No. 3 Mustangs host No. 6 Cherryville at 7 p.m. today.
North Lincoln will face either Highland Tech or West Lincoln on Tuesday with a win. East Lincoln will face Lincolnton or Bessemer City.