By RYAN HERMAN
PUMPKIN CENTER –– Playing its season opener two weeks later than its opponent, East Lincoln’s boys basketball team showed signs of a team that hadn’t played in a while.
The Mustangs also showed signs of how good they can be.
Freshman Sage Surratt scored 26 points and his older brother, Chazz, had 21 points and six assists as East Lincoln shook off any early-season struggles to down North Lincoln 67-48 in a non-conference game on Tuesday.
“It was a little sloppy, and that’s typical. I thought we played OK,” Mustangs coach Neil Hodges said. “It was the first game out; a lot of kids only had one or two practices. It was about what you’d expect the first game.”
Two of those kids were the Surratts.
The brothers were just four days removed from the end of football season, and led an East Lincoln squad that led from start to finish.
Sage Surratt had 16 of his game-high points on 7 of 8 shooting in the first half alone while Chazz Surratt took over the fourth quarter, and scored 13 points in the period to keep the Knights (3-1) at bay.
Had it not been for the Mustangs’ offseason workouts, the outcome in this one may have been different, Hodges thought.
“He’s a good player,” Hodges said of his freshman guard. “We’re thankful for our summer program and our spring program. If we didn’t do as much as we do in the summer, there’s no way we could have done as well as we did tonight.”
The first half went about as nip-and-tuck as it could have gone without the benefit of any lead changes.
East Lincoln (1-0) led by four at 24-20 with less than a minute to play in the half. A 5-0 run by the Mustangs, highlighted by an off-the-glass 3-pointer from Sage Surratt following a turnover, made it 29-20 at the break –– a small run North Lincoln couldn’t overcome.
“That five-point swing there was huge. We’ve got so many young kids that I think if we’d went in down four we probably could have came out with a little bit more intensity than down nine,” Knights coach Eric King said. “We’re still growing as a team. I think they came out flat in the second half.”
The Mustangs stretched that small 5-0 run to 12-0 when they scored the first seven points of the third quarter.
Although its lead in the second half never dipped below double digits, East Lincoln had to earn the win at the free throw line in the fourth quarter, hitting 11 of its 15 attempts –– nine by Chazz Surratt.
North Lincoln got hot from the outside, hitting four 3s in six attempts. But it went 3 for 9 at the line in the last 8 minutes, and 5 for 15 for the game.
The Knights were also outrebounded for the first time this young season, King said. East Lincoln won that battle 26-22.
“We had quite a few players that did not play their best game,” said King, whose team was led by Zach McGinnis’s 13 points and four assists and 12 points from Chantz Petrie. “We shot terrible from the free throw line, got outrebounded for the first time this year, so there were some things that I don’t think are characteristic of us that would have kept us in the game a little bit more had we done those things.”
The Mustangs did those things, but Hodges still feels his team is a ways off from reaching its full potential.
“We’ve got plenty to work on. It’s always nice to get a W,” he said. “It’s early. Way too early. We’ve got a lot of room to improve.”
EAST LINCOLN 36, NORTH LINCOLN 33
East Lincoln’s girls rallied from 10 points down at the half to win their season opener.
Lydia Smith had 14 points and four rebounds, Hannah Moolenaar had nine points, 16 rebounds, three steals and three blocks, and Kristle Fuller had eight points and 10 boards to lead the Mustangs (1-0).
North Lincoln (0-4) led 18-8 at the break, but East Lincoln scored the first six points of the second half and held the Knights to just four points in the third quarter. The Mustangs outscored North Lincoln 28-15 in the second half.
Rachel Nuhfer had 10 points for the Knights.