Prep Basketball: Lincoln girls rely on strength in numbers to outlast Mercer 64-55
Lincoln County defenders Ciara Saylor, left, and Sydney Harris defend a shot by Mercer County's Catheryne Claunch during the fourth quarter of Lincoln's 64-55 victory Tuesday. (Nancy Leedy / February 6, 2013)
Emily Fox and Sydney Harris scored 18 points each to lead the quartet as Lincoln defeated Mercer County 64-55.
Kourtney Belcher added 16 points and Ciara Saylor had 10 points as the Patriots picked up their 20th win of the season and remained undefeated against regional opponents.
“I’ve said before that if we can get three players in double figures that we’re hard to beat and tonight we had four in double figures,” Lincoln coach Cassandra McWhorter said.
Lincoln (20-4) needed every one of those points to post its 11th straight region victory as Mercer (18-7) battled back from a 12-point halftime deficit and pulled within 56-53 with just 2 minutes, 6 seconds to play.
Catheryne Claunch, who had a game-high 19 points, converted on a three-point play for Mercer to make it a three-point game, but the Lincoln went to the foul line and sank eight straight free throws to preserve the lead and the win.
“I’m glad those (free throws) go in because, if not, well ...,” McWhorter said.
Mercer came up short, but coach Chris Souder was proud of the Titans’ second-half fight.
“We got beat by nine but, with two minutes to go it was a one-possession game” Souder said. “I’m pleased with our second half, we just dug too big of a hole the first half. You can’t get down that big against a good team like them. They are a top-15 team. I told the girls before the game, ‘They’re not going to beat themselves. We have to beat them.’ And we didn’t do that.”
Mercer found itself playing from behind from the opening tip as Lincoln jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the first quarter. Belcher went to the paint for two buckets and Harris hit inside and out for the six-point lead with 5:26 left on the clock.
Cassidy Martin, who had 16 points, had Mercer’s lone goal in the opening run, then sparked the Mercer offense with a 3-point goal at the 4:53 mark. Lyric Houston followed with a layup and Kandace Gash scored on a putback to put the Titans up 9-8.
However, the lead was short-lived. After a series of five straight turnovers, Lincoln was back on the scoreboard with Fox hitting a 3-pointer to ignite a 12-2 run. Harris scored four points during the run, Belcher added two and Saylor punctuated the first quarter with a trey to give the Patriots a 20-11 lead.
The Lincoln lead dipped below double digits only once in the second quarter. Martin bombed in a 3-pointer to make it 25-16, only to have Fox answer with her own trey and Belcher follow with a bucket off a Harris assist for the Patriots’ largest lead of the game, 30-16.
Lincoln led 32-20 at halftime, but that didn’t make McWhorter happy.
“I told the girls that I felt like we were up 20, but you look at the scoreboard and we’re not. We had way too many turnovers,” she said. “That’s because they did a good job getting their hands on a lot of things. They had a lot of deflections and steals, but then there were times we just threw the ball away. We had 17 turnovers at halftime. We don’t even want that many in a game.”
Lincoln, which had 27 turnovers overall, cut down on the miscues the second half but the lead never got much larger as Mercer made things interesting.
Belcher opened the second half with a putback for Lincoln before Claunch drove inside to set off a 10-4 Mercer run. Martin and Raegan Freeman both hit from 3-points out and Claunch closed with a rebound and putback to whittle the deficit down to 36-30 midway of the third quarter.
“I just felt like the first half we didn’t really come to compete,” Souder said. “I just wanted more competition so we jumped them pretty good at halftime, and we played much better the second half.”
McWhorter said Mercer came out the second half like she hoped Lincoln would.