Special to LTN
PUMPKIN CENTER — The Lincolnton Lady Wolves girls varsity basketball team couldn’t have executed coach Jimmy Carr’s gameplan much better in the opening quarter against rival North Lincoln on Friday night.
But Carr knew it would take more than eight minutes to knock off the Knights.
Lincolnton led 9-1 and didn’t allow North Lincoln a field goal in the first quarter, then held off Antaijah Easter and the Lady Knights the rest of the way for a hard-fought 46-41 win that kept Lincolnton tied with Lake Norman Charter atop the Southern Piedmont Conference standings.
“Typical rivalry game,” Carr said. “Both teams played really hard and really well and it was up for grabs down the stretch.”
The key to Lincolnton’s quick start was containing Easter, who came into the game averaging 25.9 points per game. Carr deployed a box-and-one defense on Easter with Bridget Derr drawing the assignment of shadowing Easter.
The Lady Wolves forced six first-quarter turnovers and North Lincoln missed all seven of its shot attempts, including two from Easter.
But Easter got the Lady Knights (13-7, 7-3) going early in the second quarter. First, she scored on a drive to the basket and then buried a 26-foot 3-pointer to cut the lead to 11-6. She scored nine points in the quarter with the last coming on a buzzer-beating 17-foot jumper to cut the Lincolnton lead to 16-12 at the half.
Things got interesting quickly in the third quarter. Easter’s pull-up 3-pointer on a fastbreak knotted the game at 19-19 and Lincolnton guard Treasure Avery then picked up her fourth foul with 5:25 left. After Avery’s short jumper put the Lady Wolves ahead, 21-19, Carr had little choice but to send his senior leader to the bench.
Alexis Killian (19 points) then converted a steal into a layup to give the Lady Wolves a 23-19 lead. After North Lincoln’s Lyndsi Pound (seven points) hit a layup, Kaylin Monday answered with a short jumper and Killian hit her third 3-pointer of the game to make it 28-21.
“(Killian) had 19 points,” Carr said. “Treasure picked up her fourth foul there early in the third quarter, and we moved her to the point guard position and she’s usually the shooting guard and she stepped up and played well as a senior and took on a lot of that pressure and handled it well. I was proud of her.”
Still, the Lady Knights weren’t finished.
Sydney Russell scored seven points in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter to keep North Lincoln within striking distance and with 2:28 remaining, Payton Bruce (eight points) hit a jumpshot to cut the lead to 40-39.
It was 43-41 after another Bruce basket with 58 seconds left, but those were the last points North Lincoln scored.
For its part, Lincolnton did all it could to keep the door open for the Lady Knights, connecting on just 8 of 23 free throws in the final quarter and 11 of 33 for the game.
Easter, who was held to a season-low nine points in the first meeting between the two teams — a 49-31 Lincolnton victory — scored 18.
“We know Ace is a great player and that’s why she draws so much attention from us is that we know we almost have to double team her every time she gets the ball because she can score 40 at the drop of a hat,” Carr said.
Avery added nine points for Lincolnton (14-4, 9-1), which plays at home against Highland Tech and travels to East Lincoln next week. Derr added eight and Sydney Devine scored seven.
“Our girls kept fighting, kept believing,” Carr said. “Their dream is still to be conference champions and they refused to lose tonight.”