DENVER — The first round of the East Lincoln Winter Jam Tournament Thursday resulted in a nearly 20-point loss for the Mustangs, who suffered a 72-54 defeat after battling the Mooresville Blue Devils.
East Lincoln won the jump ball in the match’s opening seconds with freshman Chazz Surratt first lighting up the scoreboard with a three-point shot, resulting in home team fans’ loud applause.
Surratt secured two more treys during the night, making him the Mustangs’ second leading scorer of the match with 10 points.
He trailed junior teammate Charlie Hills by only four points. Hills contributed six points apiece in both the first and third quarters.
While the team’s appeared evenly-matched in aggression and skill Thursday night, it was the Blue Devils who managed to shoot more successful baskets, including eight treys during the game.
Following the first quarter, the out-of-county team already had twice as many points as the Mustangs, and it was a similar trend going into the match’s final period as the Blue Devils led their opponent 60-40.
However, the Mustangs kept their fighting spirit until the very end, pushing up and down the court as hard as they could, even while Mooresville played a game of keep-away during the last minute in order to run down the scoreboard without the ball touching their opponent’s hands.
Additional notable scorers for the Mustangs included junior Domonique Smith with nine points, freshman Desmond Griffith with six points and four points apiece for freshman Hayden Duggins and sophomore Christian Tyson-Bryant.
Mustangs’ head coach Neil Hodges told the Times-News that following the first-round loss, the squad’s best tournament outcome would be fifth place but that the defeat is anything but a reflection of the team’s success this season, as they boast a 6-2 record overall, including two conference victories.
Hodges looks forward to the tournament each year because he believes it does more than daily school practice to prepare his men for the remainder of the season, including the conference tournament and potential state playoffs.
He noted that shooting has been his team’s top strength but anticipates players will continue refining that skill as the season unfolds.
“I hope we get better and stay at it,” Hodges said.
His goal is that by January the Mustangs will be showcasing and playing their “best basketball.”
East Lincoln will take on Northern Vance 2:30 p.m. today at home in second-round play.