PUMPKIN CENTER â€” 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 topÂ after Tuesdayâ€™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.
â€œItâ€™s a very, very satisfying win,â€ Lincolnton head coach Bob Cowie said. â€œWe played better than we did last time, we knocked down shots and free throws. Our defensive effort was as good as itâ€™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. Weâ€™re looking forward to Friday night. Iâ€™ve been saying it all year long, we want to win championships. Weâ€™ve been conference champions, holiday tournament champions, and now we want to be conference tournament champions.â€
Lincolnton senior Jalen Littlejohn knocked in his 1,000th career point with a free throw with less than a minute left in the game.
â€œIt feels really good,â€ Littlejohn said. â€œItâ€™s a huge milestone and it took a lot, and Iâ€™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.â€
Cowie was quick to praise the three-year varsity starter.
â€œThatâ€™s a great accomplishment for Jalen,â€ he said. â€œHeâ€™s been a three-year starter for us, he works hard and heâ€™s a great young man. He does everything I ask of him and Iâ€™m happy for him.â€
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 Tuesdayâ€™s win was satisfying for more than just adding a win to the scorebook. He said there was speculation that the Wolves wouldnâ€™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.
â€œHonestly, our momentum was off with Gidneyâ€™s loss,â€ he said. â€œEverybody doubted us, thinking we couldnâ€™t do it without him. We do need him, but thatâ€™s what we put in our heads, to try to prove people wrong. â€œ
East Lincoln head coach Neil Hodges said several factors contributed to his teamâ€™s loss, and that past records do not help much in a new game.
â€œEvery game has its own life,â€ he said. â€œEach 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 didnâ€™t play well and we didnâ€™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, youâ€™re going to win.â€
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.