Special to LTN
PUMPKIN CENTER — Something pretty special has to happen for the fan bases from two rival Lincoln County schools to drop their gloves in the middle of a game.
On Friday night, North Lincoln’s Antaijah Easter was well beyond pretty special.
The junior guard put on a shooting display that had the Lady Knights’ fans begging her to shoot and even the East Lincoln student section impressed with what they were witnessing.
When North Lincoln’s 80-30 victory was officially over, Easter had a career-high 41 points, a school-record 10 3-pointers and, most importantly, a big confidence-booster entering the Southern Piedmont Conference tournament this week.
“I don’t know, after the first shot,” Easter said when asked when she felt like she had it Friday. “I had been off for a couple of games so I knew I was bound to hit some shots — I had to hit some shots, something had to fall.”
It was a nice rebound game for Easter and the Lady Knights. Their previous performance was their worst of the season. They fell to Lake Norman Charter by 23 points and Easter hit just one field goal attempt and the team made only 7 of 57.
“She was on tonight,” North Lincoln coach Lynn Rhyne said. “I have to say, after the Lake Norman Charter game — she had a real hard time — and for her to come back and be on like she was tonight, that just gave her that extra boost. She needed that because we had a rough game Tuesday night.”
Easter has 11 games of 30 or more points this season — her previous season-high was 39 on Feb. 5 against Bessemer City. But even in that game, she had her struggles from the field.
Against the Lady Mustangs, she made 14 of 25 shots, including 10 of 19 (one miss was a desperation heave from halfcourt at the end of a quarter) from 3-point range. Her 10th 3-pointer, which came from well beyond the top of the key with 4:19 left in the game, broke Nicole Paysour’s school record of nine.
Her fourth-quarter flurry of four 3-pointers in less than three minutes was the crowd-pleaser. With the game long decided, Easter opened the quarter with a three. Then, on three out of North Lincoln’s next four possessions, she buried three shots from well beyond the 3-point arc, even leaving herself shaking her head.
“That motivates me to do better,” Easter said of the packed-gym crowd urging her on in the fourth quarter. “I love it when people cheer because it motivates me to do a lot better.”
Easter wasn’t the only bright spot for the Lady Knights (16-8, 10-4). The team’s lone senior, Payton Bruce, knotted her season-high with 19 points. She scored on an array of right and left-handed shots in the paint and buried a first quarter 3-pointer for good measure.
“Payton was on fire tonight,” Rhyne said. “Between her and Antaijah, the leadership — Payton is more of your quiet leader, but she’s also that leader that everybody wants to be around. Tonight she was on fire, she played hard, she ran hard, she shot well. She did everything she was supposed to do. It’s hard to watch one more senior leaving. She did a great job.”
The Lady Mustangs (3-20, 3-11) struggled to find any offensive rhythm from the start. After an Ashlee Frazier free throw cut the lead to 13-7, the Lady Knights went on a 12-2 run to close out the quarter. Frazier scored seven points for East Lincoln and Jennifer Allison added nine.
The two teams square off again tonight at North Lincoln in the first round of the conference tournament. Easter hopes Friday’s performance is a sign the Lady Knights are peaking at the right time.
“We need to play like this every game so we can get to the championship game because I really want to have another shot at Lincolnton because I think that we can win,” she said.