Special to LTN
PUMPKIN CENTER — In sports, you can’t teach size and length.
But it’s sure nice to have it and use it to your advantage.
On Friday night, that’s what East Lincoln did in beating North Lincoln, 52-41, in the regular season finale. The two teams will play for the third time this season tonight at East Lincoln at 7 p.m. in the first round of the Southern Piedmont Conference tournament.
The Mustangs (17-6, 10-4) certainly weren’t dominant in beating the Knights (10-14, 3-11), but they were effective enough on offense and stifling on defense in sweeping the regular-season series.
“When you play Lincoln County schools, you have to put on your armor because they’re always really tough,” East Lincoln coach Neil Hodges said. “But it was a good game. I thought early was a little sloppy for both teams, probably some nervousness, but it came around. We put it together and played as good as we had to play right there at the end and were happy to get the victory.”
East Lincoln was effective mixing up its defense from a zone that kept the North Lincoln offense spread out to man-to-man. In both sets, the Mustangs’ size gave the Knights trouble. North Lincoln hit 14 of 49 shots and just 4 of 19 from 3-point range. When the Knights weren’t missing shots, they were being harassed into 26 forced and unforced turnovers.
“That’s why we play it. It’s a good defense for us,” Hodges said. “They’ve got good outside shooters and you have to cover up. If you attack the zones properly, it’s hard to play a zone for a whole game. Ideally, we like to slide it in there, play a few minutes and get out of it.”
Meanwhile, the Mustangs were methodical in pulling ahead and staying ahead. Jeremy Brotherton’s putback in the opening seconds of the second quarter gave North Lincoln a 9-8 lead, but Domonique Smith answered with a 3-pointer and the Mustangs never trailed again. Five East Lincoln players scored in the second quarter as the Mustangs pulled ahead 23-17 at the half.
Charlie Hills scored six of his 13 points in the third quarter as East Lincoln stretched the lead to 39-27. The lead grew to 16 points in the fourth quarter. Chazz Surratt led East Lincoln with 15 points, Tyler Brock added eight and Smith seven.
Chase Stehling scored eight of his team-high 10 points in the second half to lead North Lincoln and Hunter Caldwell added eight.
While Hodges said he feels good about his team entering the conference tournament, he’s still looking for the consistency that has escaped his team throughout the season.
“We’re very good at certain times and, at certain times, we’re not quite so good,” he said. “That’s something we haven’t been able to master. I think momentum — the way the game is going, crowds — affects us more than they have in the past.”