LINCOLNTON â€” As the Lincolnton players filed out of the gym Wednesday night following their heartbreaking 52-50 overtime loss to West Caldwell at the buzzer, their coach put the season-ending setback into the simplest words possible.
â€œItâ€™s rough. Iâ€™ll go ahead and tell you. Itâ€™s rough,â€ Lincolnton coach Bob Cowie said.
For the Wolves, it was a season with plenty of highs â€” they were co-champions of the Southern Piedmont Conference and Jalen Littlejohn and Lorenzo Carter both reached the 1,000-point milestone in recent games.
Still, it doesnâ€™t take away the sting of a loss in a game in which Lincolnton controlled the paint and, for the second game in a row, overcame its season-long Achilles Heel by sinking 15 of 19 free throws.
Both teams stuck to a six-man rotation and traded the lead 10 times. By the time Jonathan Sherrillâ€™s driving lay-up knotted the score, 34-34, two minutes into the second half, it felt like the team with the ball last would win â€” and Lincolnton (21-5) had the first opportunity.
After the Warriors (19-6) battled back from a five-point deficit to tie the game 48-48 with 1:47 left in regulation, the Wolves called timeout and held the ball for the final shot.
Jalen Littlejohn tried to get to the basket, but his baseline jumper in heavy traffic was off the mark as time expired.
â€œWhen they came out zone, we were going to hold it and make them go man,â€ Cowie said of the last possession. â€œWe did just what we were trying to do. We were trying to get something going to the basket on that last attempt and we got it going to the basket. I thought there was a little contact, but thatâ€™s a foul you canâ€™t call. We executed what we were trying to do about the last shot and didnâ€™t give them another shot.â€
In overtime, points were difficult to find. In fact, points were hard to come by the entire second half. West Caldwell managed just 18 points after intermission and seven field goals after making seven field goals in both of the first two quarters. Lincolnton managed just four second-half field goals, but sank 11 of 13 free throws.
Sherrill gave Lincolnton a 49-48 lead with 1:47 left in overtime after hitting one of two free throws. But Chris Michaux (20 points) hit a driving layup to give the Warriors the lead at the 1:20 mark.
With 49.2 seconds, Sherrill was sent to the line again and made one of two to tie the game, 50-50.
At that point, it was West Caldwellâ€™s turn to play for the final shot. With less than five seconds, 6-foot-5-inch freshman center Mekhi Dula forced up a shot, but Sherrill got his hand on it. The ball fell back to Dula, who hurriedly flipped up the game-winning shot as the buzzer sounded.
â€œJon had him pushed out, contested the first one and actually blocked and it comes down right in his hands,â€ Cowie said. â€œSometimes the ball just doesnâ€™t bounce your way and it obviously didnâ€™t bounce our way tonight on that occasion.â€
Five players scored for Lincolntonâ€”all five of its seniors. Lorenzo Carter led the way with 13 points, followed by Michael Cunningham with 12, Sherrill with 11 and Littlejohn with eight.
â€œTheyâ€™re all tremendous parts of our program for the last three or four years,â€ Cowie said of his seniors. â€œNone of those five seniors have anything to hang their heads on. Iâ€™m as proud as I could ever be of them.â€
â€œWe laid it on the line,â€ he added. â€œWe went after it hard and sometimes in basketball and in life things donâ€™t work out the way youâ€™d like them to. I was extremely proud of our effort, our intensity. We went after it as hard as we possibly could.â€