By RYAN HERMAN
NEWTON –– East Lincoln’s boys basketball team is unbeaten no more.
Tyoun Shuford hit a 3-pointer with 4.8 seconds left, and the Mustangs couldn’t one-up Newton-Conover on the other end as the Red Devils knocked off previously unbeaten East Lincoln 69-68 on Friday night to take sole possession of first place in the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference.
Shuford’s 3 erased all of a four-point deficit that Newton-Conover (10-3, 4-0) found itself in with 37 seconds to play.
Chazz Surratt missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 13.9 ticks left. Shuford took the outlet pass from Josh Ramseur, crossed mid court, dribbled to the top of the key and drilled his second 3-pointer of the night.
After the officials asked for 4.8 seconds to be put on the clock –– it read 3.1 when East Lincoln called a timeout following the game-winner –– Surratt went baseline to baseline, and his layup rolled off the rim. Charlie Hills was there for the putback, but his last-ditch effort failed to drop and the Mustangs’ best start under longtime coach Neil Hodges was halted at 12 straight wins before a loss.
“You’re not going to go through a season undefeated. It’s virtually unheard-of these days,” Hodges said. “We had our chances. You come in here, on the road, and all you ask for is a chance. We had our chances and didn’t convert.”
In a game that saw three ties and 13 lead changes, East Lincoln (12-1, 3-1) led 68-64 with 37 seconds to play for its biggest lead since it started the game with an 8-3 run.
Surratt, who had 19 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and four steals, hit a runner in the lane to tie it at 64. A steal by Mason Leach (11 points, three assists) turned into an assist up ahead to Sage Surratt (13 points) for a 66-64 lead with 40.3 to go.
Sage Surratt stole the ball on the Red Devil’s next possession, and was fouled by Alex Johnson on his way up. He hit both free throws for the 68-64 lead.
Another Newton-Conover turnover gave Chazz Surratt a chance to extend the Mustangs’ lead, but his first free throw bounced into the hands of Ramseur, who then hit Shuford.
Shuford finished things off offensively for Newton-Conover, and its defense did the rest, forcing Surratt into a challenged layup attempt for the win.
“We just wanted to be there in the end to have an opportunity. We turned the ball over a few times (at the end) that cost us. We missed some free throws that cost us. Tyoun just put us on his back with that shot. A great game like that is going to come down to a shot,” Red Devils coach Jonathan Tharpe said. “Chazz went right down the lane and he had it, it just didn’t go in for him. It could have gone right back to East Lincoln; just a great game for both teams and we know we’ll see each other again down the road.”
Ramseur had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Jalen Connor added 21 points and nine boards for Newton-Conover, which led 3-2 early before the Mustangs quickly went up 8-3. But as quick as East Lincoln led by five, it suddenly found itself tied at 8, then down by as many as eight before cutting the Red Devils’ lead to 37-36 at the break.
Newton-Conover stretched its lead back out to eight once more in the second half, but the Mustangs again rallied, taking their first lead since it was 14-13 at 56-55 with 5:33 left on a layup by Sage Surratt after a full-court pass up ahead from Leach.
There were six lead changes the rest of the way.
“(The late lead) evaporated quickly, but things like that happen. … Give a lot of credit to Newton. They played well, hit the shots they needed to hit, rebounded good, played very tough. From our perspective, we had our shot,” Hodges said. “Nobody’s fault, we just didn’t get it done.”
To further illustrate how evenly matched the winner-take-first contest was, the Mustangs had 16 turnovers and shot 43 percent (26 for 60) while the Red Devils had 17 turnovers and shot 44 percent (26 for 59). Both teams had 34 rebounds each.
The difference maker statistically was Newton-Conover’s 3-point shooting. It hit 6 of 18 from behind the arc while East Lincoln made just three of its 10 attempts.
The Red Devils sit alone in first while the Mustangs are in a three-way for second with Bunker Hill and West Caldwell, which it hosts on Thursday.
EAST LINCOLN 23
The Mustangs were outscored by 20 in the second half to fall to 0-4 in league play.
Hannah Moolenaar led East Lincoln (2-11, 0-4) with nine points while Hannah Stull and Mackenzie Eller scored 13 each for Newton-Conover (7-6, 3-1).
The Red Devils led 25-16 at the break, but outscored East Lincoln 27-7 in the second half.