The Lincoln County girls had been making a concerted effort to get to the free throw line more often late in the season.
The Patriots needed every last one of those trips Friday as they went 30 of 40 at the line, getting nearly half thier points from the stripe to edge host Danville 66-62 for their seventh straight victory.
“Our goals is for us to get to the free throw line 20-plus (times) and keep them 12 and under,” Lincoln coach Cassandra McWhorter said.
Danville coach Judie Mason said it’s hard to win when the other team takes 21 more foul shots. The Ads were 14 of 19 at the foul line.
“It is ... 40-19 and we’re pretty physical taking it to the basket,” she said. “But I’m pleased with the way we played. We’re not going to win if the other team makes 30 free throws whether we fouled or whether we didn’t.”
The teams played to a 72-69 double-overtime thriller in their first meeting on New Year’s Day, and this one was just as tight. There were 29 lead changes and eight ties. Danville never led by more than two points while Lincoln’s largest lead was eight late in the third quarter.
Sydney Harris scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds and Rachel Spangler and Kourtney Belcher each had 11 points for Lincoln (20-4, 6-0 45th District), which led 50-42 late in the third quarter and had Danville in foul trouble before the Admirals made it nip-and-tuck the rest of the way.
“I expected it to be a tough game tonight — you’re playing Danville at their place. They’re playing well, and even with C.J. (McPherson) getting hurt, I knew that would maybe even give them extra motivation tonight,” McWhorter said. “Kasey (Young) is playing confident right now, Essence (Grey) is playing tough, Laken (Grey) is playing well. They’re a good ,solid team. They’ve improved and Judie’s done a great job with them, and I expected it to be a battle.”
Lincoln led 50-47 entering the fourth quarter, but a layup from Laken Grey and 3-pointer from Alyvia Walker gave Danville the lead back at 52-50 with 6:17 to play.
There were five lead changes and four ties in the fourth quarter alone. Young and Laken Grey picked up their fourth fouls in the third quarter, and Essence Grey picked up her fourth with 6:12 to play. But Mason got great contributions from her younger players to keep the Ads in it.
“I’m not surprised. When C.J. went down (with a season-ending knee injury), I knew we could replace her,” Mason said. “Our depth went a little smaller, but if Laken is not in foul trouble and on the bench it would be different. But when Laken got in foul trouble it was hard for us to compete.
“I had three eighth graders out there (Alyvia Walker, Novie Walker and Kennedy Walker) and they held their own, so I was pretty pleased with my three eighth graders.”
Young had 17 points and seven rebounds to lead Danville but missed her only free throw. She scored inside to give Danville a 59-58 lead, then Emily Fox scored off of Belcher’s steal to make it 60-59 Lincoln.
A free throw from Essence Grey, who had 14 points and seven rebounds, tied the game at 60-all with 1:41 to play.
Ciara Saylor then drained a 3-point from the top of the key to put the Patriots ahead for good 63-60 with a little more than a minute to go.
“Ciara’s definitely able to knock down shots,”McWhorter said. “I think Ciara’s a great shooter and scorer and I like that she’s looking to do that a little more, and I hope she continues to do that.”
Danville failed to convert twice from there, and Harris went 3-for-4 at the line over the final 10 seconds to seal it.
“We know we can play with them,” Mason said. “It’s just two good teams competing out there and I just wish they’d let us compete.”
Laken Grey finished with 16 points for Danville (15-8, 3-3), which shot 22 of 54 from the floor.
Danville led 12-11 lead after a quarter. Spencer Sims scored eight of her nine points in the second quarter, the last bucket putting Lincoln up 28-23 with 3:12 left in the half.
“Spencer Sims came in off the bench and stepped up huge,” McWhorter said. “Emily (Fox) wasn’t scoring and Spencer was able to step up and get some points for us. That’s the advantage of having depth on your bench. You can count on other girls when maybe your top players are having an off night shooting.”
Lincoln led 31-25 when Essence Grey hit a jumper. Then after Fox missed a layup in the final seconds, Young grabbed the rebound and heaved a three-quarter-court shot which hit nothing but net to trim the Patriots’ led to 31-30 at the half.
After being held scoreless in the first half, Fox came out aggressive in the second. She hit two free throws and her steal and jumper gave Lincoln a 37-34 lead with 5:40 left in the quarter. She finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
“I told Emily in the second half, take it to the goal, get to the free throw line so that way you can get going,” McWhorter said. “And she did that right away.”
Walker’s 3-point put Danville up 42-40. But after Rachel Spanger hit two free throws, Jordan Leavell was whistled for a personal foul, then a technical foul for shoving Belcher. Belcher and Harris made four straight free throws to make it 46-42. Two free throws from Spangler made it 50-42, but Essence Grey had a three-point play and Novie Walker hit a putback at the buzzer to time the lead to 50-47 going to the fourth quarter. Lincoln finished 17 of 45 shooting and outrebounded Danville 34-30.
Lincoln County 11 31 50 66
Danville 12 30 47 62
LINCOLN (20-4) — Emily Fox 8, Ciara Saylor 6, Sydney Harris 18, Rachel Spangler 11, Kourtney Belcher 11, Chansler Gilbert 3, Spencer Sims 9.
DANVILLE (15-8) — Kasey Young 17, Jordan Leavell 3, Essence Grey 14, Laken Grey 16, Alyvia Walker 6, NeNe Chenault 4, Novie Walker 2.