DENVER — The East Lincoln Mustangs boys varsity basketball team and the North Lincoln Knights have seen a lot of each other lately.
The teams played to a 66-53 East Lincoln victory on Monday in the first round of the Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference tournament opener just days after East Lincoln’s 52-41 win over the Knights on Friday.
And it’s a possibility that the teams will play for a fourth time this season in the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s 2A state playoffs on Feb. 25.
“Playing somebody the third time is always tough,” East Lincoln head coach Neil Hodges said. “You’re very familiar with each other. Basketball is an ebb and flow kind of game. I thought we played well in the fourth quarter and we’re excited to get the win.”
The fourth quarter was when the Mustangs (18-6, 10-4) pulled away from the Knights after taking a 42-41lead with a 3-pointer by junior Domonique Smith with 33 seconds left in the third. The Mustangs outscored the Knights 21-12 in the fourth, they’re best offensive period of the game, with six points from freshman Chazz Surratt and two 3-pointers by senior Tyler Brock leading the way.
The Knights (10-15, 3-11) took a 19-18 lead midway through the second quarter on a layup by junior Chase Stehling and then held the advantage until the opening minutes of the third.
“We matched their intensity for most of the game,” North Lincoln head coach Eric King said. “We have a tendency, for a three-minute stretch, to not be able to do the things that we do correctly. It’s been a rough season for us at times and some of our seniors try to do a little bit too much sometimes to get us over the hump.”
Surratt hit a 3-pointer with 6:45 left in the third to put the Mustangs ahead 33-31 but a driving layup by North Lincoln senior Hunter Caldwell knotted the score at 33-33 moments later. East Lincoln junior Charlie Hills dropped in a layup with five minutes left to put the Mustangs on top 35-33 and then Surratt executed a steal and a layup for a 37-33 East Lincoln advantage.
But back-to-back 3-pointers for the Knights by senior Christian Ramos and freshman Zach McGinnis and a steal and a layup by Stehling gave the Knights a 41-37 lead with 2:52 left in the third.
The Mustangs closed out the third with an 8-0 run through the last two minutes to take a 45-41 lead into the fourth quarter. Hills made a layup with two minutes left and Smith and Connor Ashley both made 3-pointers in the last minute to give East Lincoln a lead that it held through the rest of the game.
“There are no moral victories at this point in the season,” King said. “We match up relatively well but they’re a lot bigger than us. We need to be able to take advantage of that.”
Surratt led East Lincoln with 17 points. Brock and Smith both added 12 points and Hills finished with 10.
The Knights were paced by Ramos’s 17 points with four 3-pointers. McGinnis finished with 12 points and Caldwell added 11. Stehling led the Knights with six rebounds.