By RYAN HERMAN
PUMPKIN CENTER –– With its first North Piedmont 3A/4A win under its belt, North Lincoln’s boys basketball team can now focus on earning league win number two.
The Knights, who knocked off West Iredell 61-54 in overtime Tuesday for their first conference win this season, travel to South Iredell today looking for their first win streak since beginning the season 2-0.
The victory snapped an eight-game skid for North Lincoln, which let some winnable games against the league’s 3A competition slip through its fingers during the first half of league play.
The Knights didn’t let that happen on Tuesday, and are hoping it leads to more confidence and better results down the stretch.
“It’s the first step … to getting better each and every day,” said sophomore guard Zach McGinnis, who scored a career-high 22 points against West Iredell. “At the end of the year all that matters is if we’re playing good.”
North Lincoln was as good in the closing minutes against the Warriors as it’s been all year.
The Knights (6-11, 1-6) trailed by six entering the final period, but used a 12-4 run to take the lead late then scored the first eight points of overtime for their first win since knocking off West Lincoln on Dec. 10.
The Knights had been blown out in their previous four games, and hadn’t played a North Piedmont 3A/4A opponent close since falling 58-54 at North Iredell on Dec. 19.
The inexperience of not only winning, but staying calm when things got tight, showed on Tuesday. But in the end North Lincoln was able to pull it off.
“It’s been a while now since we’ve played a close game and we showed some rust in that type of situation,” Knights coach Eric King said. “We were lucky that, when the lights came on there at the end, that we were able to hold them off.”
Although the basketball playoffs are now seeded by overall winning percentage, much like football, losses to the league’s three 4A teams (Alexander Central, Lake Norman and Mooresville) don’t hurt as much as losing to a 3A school.
According to NCHSAA seeding rules a split conference gets two automatic bids per classification, and right now North Lincoln is in a three-way tie for third with South Iredell and West Iredell among the five 3A schools. North Iredell and Statesville are tied for the best 3A record at 4-3.
The Knights fell 56-55 to South Iredell and at North Iredell. The loss at Statesville was much uglier, 74-32.
Beating all four in the second time around is even more important now.
“What you really have to do is focus on the 3A side of it. We’re still hoping to be competitive against Alexander Central, Mooresville and Lake Norman, but you’ve really got to take care of your own, especially when it comes time for playoff time,” King said. “On the 3A side of it, if we play our game we can compete with those guys.
“We’ve put ourselves in a hole because we lost those (games) that I said we could compete.”
North Lincoln entered conference play with a 5-3 record, and opened at home against South Iredell on Dec. 13.
The Knights had their fair share of opportunities, but their failure to capitalize –– missed free throws, missed h and untimely turnovers, especially down the stretch –– cost them dearly.
A pair of free throws with 10.4 seconds left gave the Vikings (2-11, 1-6) their first win of the year, and sent North Lincoln to its first of eight straight losses.
“That’s a 3A team that we expect to compete with,” King said.
Tuesday’s win wasn’t the prettiest, but given how things have been for the Knights of late King will take it.
And he’s hoping it leads to win after win.
“You’ve just got to continue to build,” he said. “I think once that happens, playing at that upper level, that it does challenge your players to get better, make them work harder in practice.”