WILLIAMSBURG – Lincoln County withstood a furious second-half rally by Whitley County and held off the host Lady Colonels 58-55 Monday night in a matchup of two state-ranked girls’ basketball teams.
Lincoln, tied at No. 20 with Whitley in Dave Cantrall’s Rating the State rankings, came ready to go, jumping out to a 15-5 lead in the first quarter and posting an 11-point lead at the half. In the second half, though, Whitley battled back, using a 15-4 run to negate the Lady Pat lead.
While Lincoln never relinquished its lead, the two teams dueled right down to the final few seconds before the Lady Patriots could claim the win.
“Whitley County is a good team, and I knew they didn’t play to their capability the first half,” Lincoln coach Cassandra McWhorter said. “I told the girls at halftime that there were some adjustments we needed to make and that we needed to be ready. We played them this summer and they did the same thing to us then. They came out the second half and got after us.”
It came down to the game’s final seconds – and the free throw line – to decide a winner. The score was tied 48-48 with 1 minute, 46 seconds to play when Lincoln started toeing the line, with Rachel Spangler sinking a free throw, Ciara Saylor converting on one technical free throw toss and Emily Fox collecting two more at the line. Sydney Harris followed with a bucket in the paint to put Lincoln up by six, 54-48, with 32 ticks left on the clock.
The margin was still at six when Brandi Smith, who had a game-high 25 points, hit a late stride for Whitley. The junior guard drove to the hole for a basket and the foul with 6 seconds showing. Smith missed the free throw but came through with the rebound, putback and another foul with 3 seconds left. This time Smith hit her foul shot to make it 56-55.
Hallie Jones of Whitley was called for her fourth foul on the inbounds play, sending Saylor, who finished with 13 points, to the foul line where she sealed the win with two free throws.
“We’ve been talking to Ciara about becoming more of a scoring threat. I’ve talked to her and told her how much I believe in her and her ability to score, and that I want to see her look to score more. She did that tonight,” McWhorter said. “I was proud of her for not giving up. She hit one early and then she missed a couple. It’s easy for a kid after they miss a couple to get down on themselves but then she stepped up and hit a big 3, drove the ball to the hole, got to the free throw line and did some good things for us.”
Harris and Fox helped Lincoln get started in building its first-half lead by tallying the game’s first two buckets. Harris went inside for her two points and Fox followed with a driving layup off a steal. Kourtney Belcher also helped the Lady Patriot offense along with four points and Saylor pushed in five points, including a 3-point goal, as the lead grew to 15-5.
Fox, Harris and Saylor would dominate Lincoln’s scoring in the victory with Fox getting a team-high 17 points and Harris and Saylor both contributing 13 points. Fox also had five of Lincoln’s seven steals.
McWhorter said she was happy to see three Lady Pats – any Lady Pats – in double digits in a game.
“Tonight, had more than one kid do what you’re supposed to do to win and I’ve always said that, when we have three people in double digits, we’re hard to beat.”
Belcher did not quite reach double figures, finishing with six points, but she did come up with two big buckets, and a bruise or two in Lincoln’s early run.
“Kourtney played well really early. But she took some hits. She went down there with a little bump and bruise, and was moving slow,” McWhorter said.
Three-point shooting kept Whitley in the game in the first quarter with Maria Johnson and Taylor Dingess both hitting treys in the 17-8 first period.
Rachel Spangler, Belcher and Fox had a bucket apiece in a 6-2 second-quarter opening run to give Lincoln its biggest lead of the game, 23-10.
Johnson, who finished with 17 points on 5-for-6 shooting from 3-point range, followed the run with her second trey and added a third just before the half to make it 29-20. However, Lincoln’s Kelsi Honaker closed the half with a drive to the bucket for a 31-20 margin.
The lead foundered after play resumed in the second half as the Lady Colonels went on their 15-4 scoring tear to even the game at 35-all. Smith scored 10 of her 25 points in the run and Johnson had the other five as Whitley whittled away at Lincoln’s lead. The two also hit a 3-pointer apiece early in the fourth to keep the game deadlocked at 41.
“She (Johnson) shot lights out today. She’s been one of their leading scorers all year, her and No. 20. They are two good ball players on a good team,” McWhorter said. “They hit some big shots. Credit to their kids. They stepped up and made some big baskets at crucial times. We didn’t do so great defensively at times and some of those were the adjustments that we made at halftime.”
Lincoln did open up a 46-41 lead after a Fox three-point play and two free throws but the score would be tied again at 46 and 48 before the Lady Patriots could put the Lady Colonels away.
“We’re proud of our girls for fighting it out, sticking it out. We’re happy to come out on top,” said McWhorter. “We’ve just got to get over the hump of letting teams cut into our lead once we’ve established the lead, and try to extend on that lead rather than giving it up.”
Lincoln was 18-for-44 overall from the field, 2-for-12 from 3, and went 20-for-25 at the foul line, 14-for-19 the second half.
Whitley finished 19-for-43 from the field, 7-for-18 from 3, and was 10 of 11 at the free throw line.
The Lady Pats held a 23-21 edge on the boards with Harris getting six rebounds and Spangler five. Bethany Powers had five boards for Whitley.