By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– The last time East Lincoln and Newton-Conover met on the hardwood the Red Devils won by one and ended East Lincoln’s run at perfection.
On Tuesday, the Mustangs returned the favor.
Chazz Surratt scored a career-high 31 points and East Lincoln rallied from nine down late to top Newton-Conover 62-60 at home Tuesday and hand it its first loss in Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference play.
The close win came 25 days after the Red Devils (14-4, 8-1) gave East Lincoln its first loss of the season, 69-68, on a 3-pointer with 4.8 seconds left.
This time, the Mustangs (17-2, 8-2) didn’t need a buzzer-beating bucket. Rather, they needed a methodical pound-the-rim approach as they turned a nine-point deficit with 6:40 to play into 58-57 lead just inside of 2 minutes left that held.
“Both teams played hard. It was about what you’d expect,” longtime East Lincoln coach Neil Hodges said. “There’s an old saying around basketball, that these one-point games will even out over the course of the year.”
Pounding the rim was Surratt, the dual-threat quarterback who’s more like a running back on the court.
The sophomore rumbled his way to four straight fourth-quarter layups at one point –– all contested –– with the last giving the Mustangs a four-point lead it didn’t lose.
After being fouled in traffic at the rim Surratt got it to fall while falling himself to the floor, and converted the bonus to go up 61-57 with 1:26 to play. It was East Lincoln’s largest lead since closing out the first eight minutes on an 8-2 run to go up 21-15.
Surratt also had seven rebounds and four assists, the last dime to his younger brother, Sage, for a 3-pointer that pulled the Mustangs to within 53-51 with just over 4 minutes to play and really put the pressure on Newton-Conover, which had its win streak halted at nine games.
“He has the ability to get to the rim. He gets to the rim very well,” Hodges said of his sophomore floor general. “I couldn’t ask my team to play much harder than (they played).”
Down by six at the end of the first quarter, Newton-Conover benefited from some poor shooting by the Mustangs in the second.
After hitting eight of its first 12 shots, East Lincoln shot just 4 of 15 in the second quarter –– it went nearly five minutes between its first two field goals –– and its lead shrank to a 3-pointer at the break.
Newton-Conover came out on a roll to start the second half, scoring 21 points in the third period –– 11 by Alex Johnson, who had a team-high 22 –– before cooling off considerably in the fourth.
East Lincoln’s dismal shooting continued in the third, but a 3 late in the quarter by Sage Surratt seemed to kickstart an offense that hit just eight of its 29 shot attempts in the middle two quarters.
The 3 not only sparked the Mustangs, but it also sparked Sage. After hitting his first 3-point attempt early in the game, he missed his next 10 shots before connecting again. In danger of not reaching double figures for the first time in his high school career following back-to-back 20-point games, the freshman finished with 12 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
But East Lincoln’s offense isn’t what turned things around. It was its defense.
Once the Mustangs fell behind 53-44 with 6:40 left, they closed it out on an 18-7 run thanks to four turnovers and held the Red Devils without a field goal during that span.
“I was thinking we better start playing some defense and thinking we better get some stops then come down and get some scores,” Hodges said.
Charlie Hills had 12 points and nine rebounds, including the game’s final carom after Newton-Conover missed two good looks at a game-winning 3 and an overtime-forcing jumper.
Only four players scored for the Red Devils, and all reached double figures. Jalen Connor had 15 points and 10 rebounds, Tyoun Shuford –– the one who sank the game-winning 3 in the teams’ first meeting last month –– had 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and Josh Ramseur added 11 points.
Even with the big come-from-behind win, the fifth-ranked Mustangs have a quick turn around because they host Lincolnton today in a make-up game from last week’s snow.
They also still trail the sixth-ranked Red Devils by a game with only four league games left.
“Our kids played tough, showed a little bit of toughness. It cost us a lot of energy tonight. We’ve got to turn around and play again tomorrow night,” Hodges said.
“They have a nice, commanding lead. Somebody somewhere is going to have to (beat them) and we’re going to have to win. We just try to take care of our own business, try to take care of ourselves, do what we can do, and that’s all you can do.”
EAST LINCOLN 32
Rakena Bowers scored 13 points and Hope Danner added 10 as Newton-Conover’s girls (10-8, 6-3) downed East Lincoln.
Hanna Moolenaar led the Mustangs (3-16, 1-9) with 11 points. They were outscored 42-22 in the first three quarters.