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Wolves down Mustangs, advance to conference tourney championship

Lincolnton’s Patrick Rendleman, surrounded by East Lincoln players, goes up for a rebound on Tuesday.

Jalen Littlejohn hits 1,000th point in 50-40 win

MICHAEL GEBELEIN
Sports Writer

PUMPKIN CENTER — The Lincolnton Wolves defeated the East Lincoln Mustangs by 12 points on Jan. 6, but the Mustangs avenged that loss less than two weeks ago on Feb. 3 with a 55-52 overtime win.
The Wolves are back on top  after Tuesday’s 50-40 win in the semifinals of the Southern Piedmont Conference tournament at North Lincoln, and advance to face Highland Tech on Friday for the conference tournament championship.
“It’s a very, very satisfying win,” Lincolnton head coach Bob Cowie said. “We played better than we did last time, we knocked down shots and free throws. Our defensive effort was as good as it’s been all year. We talked about things that they were going to do and how to stop them, and I think our kids did a great job of responding to that. We’re looking forward to Friday night. I’ve been saying it all year long, we want to win championships. We’ve been conference champions, holiday tournament champions, and now we want to be conference tournament champions.”
Lincolnton senior Jalen Littlejohn knocked in his 1,000th career point with a free throw with less than a minute left in the game.
“It feels really good,” Littlejohn said. “It’s a huge milestone and it took a lot, and I’ve got to thank all of my teammates. It takes a hard effort, good coaching and being in the right place at the right time during the games to get the easy baskets.”
Cowie was quick to praise the three-year varsity starter.
“That’s a great accomplishment for Jalen,” he said. “He’s been a three-year starter for us, he works hard and he’s a great young man. He does everything I ask of him and I’m happy for him.”
The Wolves jumped out to a 9-0 lead before East Lincoln junior Tyler Brock got the Mustangs on the board with a three-pointer with 2:45 left in the first quarter. Lincolnton led 16-9 after the first eight minutes of play, but the Mustangs closed the gap in the second quarter.
The Wolves were 3-14 from the field in the second quarter, including 0-5 from three-point range, but Lorenzo Carter went 5-5 from the free-throw line. The Mustangs posted 12 points in the second quarter, with two three-pointers by senior Antwaine McLean, to go into halftime down 27-21.
The Wolves opened the game back up in the third quarter, and scored 12 points, while allowing only seven points to the Mustangs. East Lincoln had another 12-point quarter in the fourth, while Lincolnton added 11 for the final margin.
Littlejohn said Tuesday’s win was satisfying for more than just adding a win to the scorebook. He said there was speculation that the Wolves wouldn’t be as effective as a team after senior Jonathan Gidney was dismissed from the team after receiving two technical fouls against Cherryville on Feb. 7.
“Honestly, our momentum was off with Gidney’s loss,” he said. “Everybody doubted us, thinking we couldn’t do it without him. We do need him, but that’s what we put in our heads, to try to prove people wrong. “
East Lincoln head coach Neil Hodges said several factors contributed to his team’s loss, and that past records do not help much in a new game.
“Every game has its own life,” he said. “Each game has a whole different dynamic, so what happens in one game has absolutely no effect on what happens in the next one. I have to give Lincolnton a lot of credit, they just simply beat us. We didn’t play well and we didn’t shoot the ball well. They played good defense and they beat us on the board. Usually if you play good defense and you win on the board, you’re going to win.”
The Wolves face Highland Tech in the Southern Piedmont Conference tournament championship on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at North Lincoln. East Lincoln faces North Lincoln at Lincolnton on Thursday to determine the No. 2 seed in the SPC for state playoff purposes.

East Lincoln’s Antwaine McLean drives toward the basket on Tuesday.

Images courtesy of Ray Gora / LTN

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