LEXINGTON — After a disappointing 1-8 start, the Lincoln County boys have caught fire and won six of their last seven games.
The Patriots latest victory came on the road as they defeated Harlan County 60-54 Saturday in the Dunkin Donuts Shootout at Lexington Catholic High.
“We’ve come a long way,” Lincoln coach Jeff Jackson said. “We’re excited about the progress we think our kids are making. Hopefully we’ll continue to get better and work hard and have good practices.”
Sophomore guard Jacob Conway led the Patriots in the win with a game-high 22 points, including 13 of 14 free throws. Brandon Pittman and BJ Hoover, both sophomores, also hit double figures, with Pittman getting 12 points and Hoover 10.
Lincoln (7-9) led for most of the game and was up by nine with 6 minutes, 16 seconds to play after three straight treys from Neil Conley, Hoover and Pittman. But the Patriots, who shot 45 percent (15-for-33) from the field, would not score another field goal the remainder of the game – and Harlan County took advantage.
The Black Bears (14-2) broke on a 10-3 run in the fourth quarter to challenge the Patriots, with Chad Massingill, who led his team with 21 points, scoring six points in the run to make it a 48-46 ballgame with 2:47 to play.
Harlan County fell short in its rally effort, though, with Lincoln going 15-for-18 from the foul line in the final four minutes of the game to hold off the Black Bears.
Jackson said he was pleased with the maturity shown by his young team, which has four sophomores in the starting lineup and a sophomore and junior coming off the bench.
“We didn’t panic, we didn’t get rattled. I see our sophomores getting a little more composure and a little more experienced,”¿said Jackson. “It was a telling tale today for our kids because we’ve lost a couple games early where we’ve been in that situation and we didn’t respond well to the runs.”
The Lincoln mentor was also pleased that the Patriots could seal the win at the line.
“We’ve not been making our free throws down the stretch so we shot a lot of free throws before we left today,” Jackson said. “We have some kids that can shoot the ball and we really try to emphasize putting those in the basket late in the game. And we did that. I was proud of how we shot them and hope that trend will continue.”
Luke Hill converted on a three-point play early in the first quarter to give Lincoln its first lead of the game, 5-4. Timmy Taylor and Hoover followed the three-point play with back-to-back 3-pointers to extend the lead to 11-6. Lincoln was 8-for-19 from 3 for the game.
Pittman scored four points late in the opening frame to give Lincoln a 17-12 advantage. The margin was 22-14 just over a minute into the second quarter with Hill scoring with a jumper and Hoover draining a trey.
But Tyler Brewer, who finished with 10 points, answered with six straight points for the Black Bears to chip away at the Lincoln lead, and Massingill and Aaron Caldwell followed with back-to-back buckets to tie the game at 22.
Pittman ended the 8-0 run with a 3-pointer to edge Lincoln back on top, and Conway made it 32-26 at the half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Harlan County erased Lincoln’s lead again in the third quarter, using an 8-1 run to move ahead. Brewer opened the run with a bucket in the paint, Massingill added a field goal and free throw and Sergent hit from 3-point range to put the Black Bears up 34-33 midway of the period.
After trading baskets with Harlan County, Lincoln collected a free throw toss from Pittman then Conley hit for his 3-point goal at the end of the third quarter to put the Patriots on top to stay.
“Our kids played well,” said Jackson. “They are so strong and physical, they kind of knock you around. We’re not big and strong right now, but we’re getting better as a basketball team. Hopefully, we’ll continue to do that. We’re fortunate to come out with the win but we are excited about the progress we think our kids are making.”
Harlan County shot 43 percent (18-for-42) from the field. The Black Bears were 16-for-24 from the foul line.
Lincoln was 22-for-27 overall from the line
Harlan County dominated on the glass 26-16 led by Caldwell’s seven boards and Brewer’s six. Conley led Lincoln with four rebounds, Hoover, Conway and Hill each had three.
Lincoln had nine turnovers to Harlan’s 11.