By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– East Lincoln likes to get out and run, and against Bandys the Mustangs did plenty of it.
Chazz Surratt had 24 points and younger brother, Sage, added 21 as East Lincoln blew open a close game to start the second quarter en route to a 96-66 win over Bandys to open the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference tournament on Tuesday.
The third-seeded Mustangs (21-3) will face West Caldwell, a 58-34 winner over Maiden, in a semifinal game at 8 p.m. Thursday at Catawba Valley Community College.
Sixth-seeded Bandys (10-14) closed the first eight minutes on a 7-2 run to make it a three-point game to start the second quarter. But before the Trojans could blink, they trailed by double digits thanks to a 20-8 Mustangs run and that lead kept growing until East Lincoln hit the 90-point mark for the fifth time this year.
“When we can get the ball out and run and shoot layups and get, you know, a fast-paced game going, that’s when we’re at our best,” longtime Mustangs coach Neil Hodges said. “We had those opportunities tonight.”
Inside of two minutes left in the first quarter, the Mustangs led 17-9. But the Trojans closed out the quarter by hitting their final three shots, including a 3-pointer by Dylan Wambold, to make it 19-16.
It was never that close again.
East Lincoln outscored its opponent 31-12 in the decisive quarter, and did so in transition on layup after layup predicated by a better effort on the defensive end.
“I think we picked up our defense a little bit,” Hodges said.
Sage Surratt led the Mustangs with seven rebounds and Chazz Surratt had seven steals as they beat Bandys for the third time this season and by an average of 32 points each time.
Mason Leach scored 14 points and Dominique Smith matched him with 14, scoring 10 in the first quarter.
Sage Surratt was scoreless in the first quarter, and Chazz Surratt was held to three points. But when East Lincoln started running the county’s top two scores got hot, too.
Jonah Griffith had 20 points and Wambold had 10 to lead Bandys, which now must wait until Saturday for its fate when the NCHSAA releases its state playoff pairings.
The Mustangs, meanwhile, must prepare for the only team they’ve faced this year they haven’t been able to beat.
West Caldwell (17-6) knocked off East Lincoln 73-69 on Jan. 16, then beat it 61-49 on Feb. 7.
The Warriors have given the Mustangs matchup troubles in those two games, and have also been able to control the tempo and keep it a half-court game –– adjustments Hodges knows his team must make if it wants to play for the tournament championship Friday night.
“A long time ago they talked about, if you want to be a really good team, you’ve got to be able to play at three different speeds –– you’ve got to be able to play a fast speed, you’ve got to be able to (play) a slow speed, and somewhere in the middle. Right now, I think we’re pretty good at a fast speed, and it’s the other speeds that we need to work on and get better,” Hodges said. “If we can get out and go we’re pretty good.”