Pats knock off North Oldham, advance to state semifinals
Published 12:40 pm Friday, March 18, 2022
By MIKE MARSEE
LEXINGTON — Lincoln County is getting in deep now.
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The Patriots ventured into uncharted territory — at least for them — Friday when they advanced to the semifinals of the Boys Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
On the strength of a strong second-quarter run, Lincoln reached the third line of the state tournament bracket with a 56-46 victory over North Oldham at Rupp Arena.
The Patriots shook off a sluggish start and seized the lead with a 12-0 run in the second quarter, and they never let it go.
“We just told our kids to keep playing,” Lincoln coach Jeff Jackson said. “We’ve got 17- and 18-year-old kids and they’re playing on the big stage, and it’s just a great time to have fun and play together and enjoy the experience. Just go out there and play hard and have fun.”
For the first time in school history, Lincoln is one of the last four teams standing.
“They’ve taken me on a great ride,” Jackson said.
The ride continues Saturday when Lincoln (31-7) faces George Rogers Clark (35-1), which is widely considered the tournament favorite, at 11 a.m. for a berth in the championship game that night.
Lincoln, the first 12th Region team to reach the final four since Boyle County in 2015, finished off North Oldham (19-13) in the fourth quarter, when they worked their way through the Mustangs’ pressure and traps and hit free throws at a better rate than they had two days earlier in their first-round win.
“I’m really proud of the kids for taking care of some things with the basketball late in the game, moving the ball and getting good shots,” Jackson said. “And we stepped up and made our free throws today.”
Lincoln laid the groundwork for its win in the second period, when it scored the first 12 points to erase North Oldham’s 12-11 lead.
Tramane Alcorn, the Patriots’ leading scorer on the season, scored nine of those points and led the Patriots with 15 after being held to six on Wednesday in their first-round win over Jeffersontown.
Alcorn gave Lincoln an 11-10 lead with a steal and layup in the closing seconds of the first quarter, and he got to the basket for a layup less than 10 seconds into the second quarter to give the Patriots in front for good at 13-12.
The junior guard followed with a 3-point goal, another steal and layup and, after Jackson Sims sank a 3-point shot, a layup off a pass from Sims following a Clayton Davis offensive rebound that gave Lincoln a 23-12 with 4:20 left in the first half.
“Tramane can score, and he attacks that basket really really well. And he did a good job defensively, got a couple of steals and got out in transition,” Jackson said.
Lincoln took a 29-18 lead into halftime after going 8 for 12 from the field in the second quarter.
“That second quarter really killed us,” North Oldham coach David Levitch said. “It was kind of tough to catch up from that.”
The Patriots scored the first five points of the third quarter, and after North Oldham reeled off seven straight points, they answered with an 11-1 run that gave them their largest lead at 44-26 with :22 seconds left in the period.
That spurt included a 3-pointer by Clayton Davis as well as 3s by Connor Davis and Jalen Smith, the younger brothers of Clayton Davis and Jaxon Smith, who were on the floor alongside their senior siblings.
“He hasn’t gotten too much time this year, but he’s really stepped up in this tournament,” Jaxon Smith said. “He played some big minutes last game, and he hit a huge 3 that gave us a momentum swing tonight, so I was really proud of him.”
“Same with Connor,” Clayton Davis said. “I’m sure he was really nervous — he told me he was nervous — but he came in and hit a big 3 and I’m proud of him.”
North Oldham ratcheted up its pressure and Lincoln turned the ball over on its first three trips and four of its first six possessions in the fourth quarter. Ian Higdon, who led the Mustangs with 20 points and 10 rebounds, scored five points in a 7-0 run that pulled them within 44-33.
But they got only a little closer — 50-41 at the 2:05 mark — once the Patriots settled down.
“We had to adjust to it,” Jaxon Smith said. “(Jackson has) done a really good job scheduling this year, and there’s not anything that we haven’t seen, so when they threw that at us in the fourth quarter we just had to adjust, and once we got under control and we hit our free throws we had control of the game.”
Lincoln made seven of 10 free throws in the final 2:30 — Clayton Davis was 4 for 6 and Colton Ralston was 2 for 2 — and the Patriots were 11 for 16 overall at the line after going 13 for 22 and missing several shots down the stretch against J-Town.
The Patriots shot 46 percent from the field and went 9 for 18 from 3-point range, with seven different players sinking 3s.
Jaxon Smith scored 11 points, Ralston had 10 and Clayton Davis had eight, while Alcorn had four assists for the Patriots.
The Mustangs shot just 29 percent from the field through the first three quarters and finished at 38 percent, but they were 2 for 16 from 3-point range.
“We struggled in the second half shooting,” Levitch said. “They’re very aggressive, they have very good on-ball defenders. They’re strong, and their pick-and-roll coverage is really good.
“They’re just a very physical, well-coached ball club, and we just couldn’t really get what we wanted.”
Lincoln’s two tournament opponents are a combined 4 for 35 (11 percent) from long range.
Another key to Lincoln’s advancement was rebounding. The Patriots outrebounded the Mustangs 29-25 and allowed only five offensive boards.
“It was the No. 1 key, we felt, going into the game. We had to neutralize them and keep them off the glass as much as we could,” Jackson said. “They’re a very, very good offensive rebounding team, and I thought we did a good job of taking them a little further out on the floor, and our kids battled with them inside.”
George Rogers Clark, led by former Mercer County coach Josh Cook, is a scoring machine whose offense ran sluggishly Friday in its 43-38 victory over Pikeville.
The Cardinals entered the tournament averaging a state-best 84.3 points per game, beating teams by a state-best 31.8 points per game and shooting 54 percent from the field, but they shot just 31 percent in their narrow quarterfinal win.
GRC has one of the state’s top players in guard Jerome Morton (19.2 points per game), who leads a powerful junior class.
The Cardinals’ only defeat was a two-point loss to South Carolina powerhouse Dorman in December.
“They’re very, very well coached and very skilled,” Jackson said. “It will be a heck of a basketball game.”
KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen
NORTH OLDHAM (19-13) — Ian Higdon 8-13 4-6 20, Luke Anderson 2-4 0-3 4, Dallas Roberts 1-11 2-4 4, Jack Scales 5-14 0-0 12, Grant Neal 3-6 0-0 6, Jack Fischer 0-0 0-0 0, Keaton Whitt 0-0 0-0 0, Benjamin Becarra 0-1 0-0 0, Miles Gay 0-1 0-0 0, Ryan Howard 0-0 0-0 0, Aaron Judd 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan Kelly 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-50 6-13 46.
LINCOLN COUNTY (31-7) — Jackson Sims 2-3 0-0 6, Tramane Alcorn 6-10 2-4 15, Jaxon Smith 4-9 2-2 11, Colton Ralston 3-8 2-2 10, Sawyer Horton 0-0 0-0 0, Jalen Smith 1-2 0-0 3, Connor Davis 1-2 0-0 3, Blade Nuckols 0-0 0-0 0, Trevor Miracle 0-0 0-0 0, Seth Horton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-39 11-16 56.
North Oldham 12 18 28 46
Lincoln County 11 29 44 56
3-Point Goals—North Oldham 2-16 (Roberts 0-3, Scales 2-10, Neal 0-2, Becarra 0-1), Lincoln County 9-18 (Sims 2-3, Alcorn 1-2, Jax. Smith 1-3, Ralston 2-4, Cl. Davis 1-4, Jal. Smith 1-1, Co. Davis 1-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—North Oldham 25 (Hidgon 10), Lincoln County 29 (Sims 8). Assists—North Oldham 12 (Anderson 5), Lincoln County 11 (Alcorn 4). Total Fouls—North Oldham 14, Lincoln County 11. A—12,479.