By RYAN HERMAN
PUMPKIN CENTER –– North Lincoln’s young and relatively inexperienced boys basketball team saw a lot of positives in the first three weeks of its season.
As conference play began on Friday, about the only positive the Knights had was that it was another game under their belts.
Jalyon Stockton hit a pair of free throws with 10.4 second left to give South Iredell the cushion it needed to knock off North Lincoln 56-55 in the North Piedmont 3A/4A Conference boys basketball opener for both teams.
The Knights had their fair share of opportunities, but their failure to capitalize –– missed free throws, missed layups and untimely turnovers, especially down the stretch –– cost them dearly.
“The biggest positive that you can take from these early season games is that every game is more experience for those guards,” North Lincoln coach Eric King said. “We had so many opportunities to put ourselves back in the lead, but I can’t take a lot of positives from coming back considering how many times we had the chance to go back up.”
Following Stockton’s free throws, which gave the Vikings (1-4, 1-0) a 56-53 lead, North Lincoln sophomore point guard Zach McGinnis had a good look at a tying 3 but missed. Senior Chase Stehling was there for the putback, but the clock ran out seconds later.
Had things gone the Knights’ way for the previous dozen possessions, they wouldn’t have needed a buzzer-beater to force overtime.
Down by as many as nine in the second half, North Lincoln used an 11-4 run to make it a three-point game at 53-50 with 1:29 left. From then on it was who could make its free throws, and that was the Vikings.
North Lincoln (5-3, 0-1) hit 13 of 26 from the line –– 5 for 15 in the fourth quarter. South Iredell hit just four of its 13 free throws in the final period, allowing the Knights to get back in. But they didn’t capitalize.
Stehling had seven tries at the line, hitting just two. Junior Landon Yarbrough, who led North Lincoln with 14 points and 11 rebounds, missed his two freebie attempts in the fourth quarter before fouling out with 2:41 to play.
Sophomore Chantz Petrie, who had an off night from the field hitting just two of his nine shots, missed a pair and reserve Shane Magee hit 1 of 2.
McGinnis was the only one to convert all of his foul shots in the final quarter –– a pair that made it 53-50 –– but had a lead-changing layup waived off due to traveling with 11.9 seconds left that would have made it 55-54 in favor of the Knights.
“We definitely had our opportunities. … We’ve been up and down (at) free throws all year. It did come down to that, but we still had opportunities even with all the missed free throws,” said King, whose team dropped its conference opener for the third straight year.
“We continued to fight, but we’ve got to stop making the mental mistakes that put us in that position over and over.”
That fight came after the Vikings erased all of a seven-point deficit in the last six minutes of the first half.
The Knights led 14-7 with 6:20 before the break, but South Iredell closed the half on a 16-6 run once it figured out how to handle North Lincoln’s 2-3 zone and itself applied more full-court pressure.
It stretched its lead out to nine at 48-39 with 7:19 left to play when Stockton found Tyzden Graham wide open for a 3.
Graham led all scorers with 19 points as the Vikings, unlike the Knights, finally closed out a game for the first time all season.
“I’ll give credit to North Lincoln. They battled down to the final buzzer and made a lot of plays. But I was proud of our guys for finishing the job that we hadn’t done on previous occasions. That feels good to see,” South Iredell coach Jim Blackwell said.
Stehling added 11 points for North Lincoln, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter. It did a better job at fighting through the Vikings’ defense, but in the end things were off on the offensive end.
“I thought we came out better in the second half at handling their pressure,” King said, “but we just couldn’t finish it.”
SOUTH IREDELL 59
NORTH LINCOLN 13
South Iredell’s girls had no trouble with the Knights in the teams’ conference opener.
Kaylee Johnson led the Vikings (4-2, 1-0) with 15 points and Lekia Hall added 10. Rachel Nuhfer had five points to pace North Lincoln (0-8, 0-1).
h Franklin, the Knights’ leading scorer entering Friday’s game at 8.7 points per game, suffered a right arm injury in the first half and didn’t return. She spent the second half with it wrapped in ice.
North Lincoln continues conference play when it travels to Alexander Central on Tuesday.