Lincoln boys outlast Wayne to reach regional semifinals

Published 5:02 am Sunday, March 5, 2023


Contributing Writer

STANFORD — The Lincoln County Patriots were prepared for the grind.

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They had been in this position before, and they weren’t surprised Wednesday night when they had to step up their game to get past a Wayne County team they had dismantled early in the season.

Defense and rebounding fueled a strong sprint to the finish line that turned what might have been a first-round upset into a 51-40 victory for the defending regional champions in the boys 12th Region Tournament.

The Patriots trailed when the fourth quarter began, but they outscored the Cardinals 20-6 over the final 8:39 and 11-3 over the final 3:14 to secure a spot in the semifinals for the third consecutive year.

Lincoln coach Jeff Jackson spoke often last season during his team’s run to the regional title and the state semifinals about “grinder games,” and he said this game was certainly another one of those.

“You tell your kids to win tournaments there are going to be grinder games, and you’re going to have to win a grinder game or two,” Jackson said. “Last year a lot of them were grinder games and we’ve got to find ways to win those, and it’s usually on the defensive end and rebounding the ball.”

The Patriots had beaten Wayne 58-31 in the second week of the regular season and had won its last five games against the Cardinals, but they said they never expected this game to be like that game.

“I think no matter who we play here on out it’s going to be a tough game,” Lincoln guard Connor Davis said. “We’ve just got to step up and be ready (for) that. I’mm expecting every game to be like that.”

Host Lincoln (23-9) will face West Jessamine at 6:30 p.m. Monday for a berth in the championship game.

The Patriots certainly shot the ball better in the fourth period Wednesday than in the first three, but it was defense and rebounding that got them going.

“In the fourth quarter I think we played more with a sense of urgency,” Jackson said. “I think our defensive intensity picked up and … we did a better job blocking out and rebounding and limiting them to one shot.”

Lincoln used a 2-2-1 zone and some halfcourt pressure to affect Wayne’s shooters. The Cardinals had shot 40 percent from the field over the first three periods but were just 2 for 9 overall and 2 for 8 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter.

Wayne ruled the glass for three quarters as well, outrebounding Lincoln 23-12 and turning nine offensive rebounds into a number of second-chance points. But the Patriots flipped the script on the boards in the fourth quarter, holding a 9-8 edge and rebounding every one of the Cardinals’ missed shots.

“We knew we had to get rebounds, and we knew defense was going to win the game,” Davis said.

Davis and Colton Ralston drove to the basket for layups on consecutive possessions to open the fourth quarter — the former after a rebound and the latter after a turnover — to give Lincoln the lead for good at 36-34 with 7:12 to play.

That allowed the Patriots to pull the ball out, forcing Wayne’s defenders deeper into the backcourt and opening lanes to the basket.

Jackson Sims got a layup in transition and Tramane Alcorn drove for back-to-back layups to give Lincoln, which was 5 for 7 from the field in the fourth quarter, a 42-37 lead with 3:14 remaining.

Wayne (17-14) then missed 3-point shots on seven consecutive trips, and Lincoln hit eight of nine free throws in the final 1:44 to close out the game.

Alcorn scored 19 points to lead Lincoln. Ralston had 11 points, Sims added 10 and Davis had three assists and three steals.

There were six ties and five lead changes over the first three periods, and neither team led by more than three points.

Lincoln, which is in the semifinals for the third consecutive year, faces another rematch against West Jessamine (22-10). The Patriots defeated the Colts 71-68 in overtime on Dec. 13 in Nicholasville.

West Jessamine is a veteran team that defeated Rockcastle County 70-50 in its first-round game for its 17th win in its last 19 games.

“They’re very talented, they’re big and they can shoot it and handle it,” Jackson said. “They’re a load, and it’ll be a challenge.”