Special to LTN
PUMPKIN CENTER — When North Lincoln coach Eric King looks back at Friday night’s game against Cherryville, he’ll see a valiant second-half effort from his team.
Unfortunately, that will be offset by five-minute stretch in the first half that he’d just as soon wipe from his memory.
The Ironmen hit nine 3-pointers in the first half, built a big lead and then twice held off the Knights’ furious comeback attempt for an 83-74 win.
When North Lincoln’s Zack McGinnis hit a layup with 1:46 left in the opening quarter to cut Cherryville’s lead to 18-13, it looked like the night was going to settle into a typical, back-and-forth contest in the Southern Piedmont Conference.
But the Ironmen (7-5, 2-1) went on a 19-4 run before another McGinnis bucket slowed the flurry. By that time, Cherryville led 37-19 with 3:23 remaining in the half. Then, for good measure, Rhyer Davis (16 points) sank a pair of three-pointers — the eighth and ninth ones of the half for the Ironmen — and the Ironmen had their largest lead of the game of 24 points before Chase Stehling’s basket made it 49-29 at the half.
“Defensively we did not come out with the things we’d been working on in practice about closing out,” King said. “We knew that Cherryville liked to look for the three-point shot and right from the beginning we had a few defensive miscues and they caught fire from there.”
Five Cherryville players sank 3-pointers in the first half and the Ironmen were 9 of 14 from long range. To make matters worse for the Knights (7-6, 0-3), point guard Christian Ramos and center Landon Yarbrough were saddled with three first-half fouls.
But just as it felt the Ironmen would cruise through the second half, the Knights came out of the locker room with a new sense of urgency.
After Brandon Warren scored to give Cherryville a 51-29 lead, North Lincoln’s Hunter Caldwell scored seven points as the Knights reeled off 15 consecutive points. Then, Caldwell pulled up for a 3-pointer with 2:18 left in the quarter to bring the Knights to within 55-49.
Cherryville didn’t flinch, though. The Ironmen regrouped and finished the half on a 10-1 run to take a 65-50 lead into the fourth quarter and seemingly deflate any thoughts the Knights had of a comeback
“The second half we switched to a little bit of a zone, frustrated them a little bit,” King said. “But once we started to get back in it, we had a little bit of a letdown offensively, turned the ball over a few times and we battled behind the whole game.”
North Lincoln had one more run and again it was Caldwell who was the catalyst.
Grant Studdard scored on an assist from Caldwell to cut the Cherryville lead to 69-60. After the Ironmen missed two free throws, Caldwell buried a 3-pointer from the corner to again pull the Knights to within six, 69-63, with 3:25 left in the game.
But like the comeback attempt in the third quarter, the Knights couldn’t get over the hump. Cherryville, which didn’t make a 3-pointer in the second half after its first-half explosion, made 14 of 24 free throws in the final quarter to hold on for the win.
Warren led Cherryville with 23 points, including 9 of 12 from the free throw line.
Caldwell led the Knights with 22 points, including four 3-pointers. He added six rebounds, six steals and four assists. Stehling added 14 points and 11 rebounds and Ramos scored 11 points before fouling out.
“Hunter’s a leader,” King said. “He’s trying to take up the slack left after we had a couple of big leaders leave last year. He’s been the big shot guy all year for us. As a team, we just have to get better defensively.”