Magic runs out for Lincoln in state semifinals; Pats take eventual state champ to double overtime
Published 9:05 am Tuesday, March 22, 2022
By MIKE MARSEE
LEXINGTON — Every ride comes to an end.
Lincoln County took one final spin on the postseason roller coaster Saturday before the best season in school history ended, and like the Patriots’ season as a whole, it was some kind of trip.
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The Patriots and the fans who followed them to Rupp Arena experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows on a thrill ride that lasted more than two hours but must have seemed much shorter.
They went from the brink of a blowout loss to the brink of the state finals before bowing out of the Boys Sweet 16 with a 54-51 double-overtime loss to eventual state champion George Rogers Clark.
Lincoln erased a 13-point deficit and took the state’s No. 1-ranked team to two extra periods in a thrilling semifinal that coach Jeff Jackson said brought out the best in his team.
“I thought our kids really laid everything they had inside themselves out there on the floor,” Jackson said.
It was the culmination of the most successful of Lincoln’s six trips to the Sweet 16. The Patriots won the hearts of their community as they won two games and came tantalizingly close to playing for the state championship.
“There’s no coach in Kentucky that would rather be anywhere than where (I’m) at right now with these kids up here,” Jackson said. “They played so hard, they competed at the highest level, they represented themselves and the program, our school and our community in the highest regard all year.”
A slow start marked by poor shooting didn’t prevent Lincoln (31-8) from going toe to toe with GRC (36-1), which defeated Warren Central for the championship later Saturday after surviving the Patriots.
The Patriots, who won close games over Jeffersontown and North Oldham in the first two rounds of the Sweet 16, took a 37-35 lead — their first lead since 2-0 — on a shot in the paint by Jaxon Smith with 1:46 left in regulation.
After the Cardinals regained the lead 16 seconds later on a 3-point shot by Sam Parrish, Tramane Alcorn drew a foul and tied the game at 38-all by making one of two free throws at 1:12.
GRC held for a final shot, but Jerone Morton missed a 3-point try with five seconds left.
Lincoln didn’t lead in either overtime period but did have some big moments, the biggest of which was Smith’s buzzer-beating jump shot at the end of the first overtime.
The Patriots trailed 46-42 when Smith sank a 12-foot jumper with 15 seconds left. After Jackson Sims rebounded a missed free throw, Smith brought the ball down the floor, drove toward the lane against Morton, turned at the right elbow and fired a contested step-back shot that bounced off the rim, struck the backboard and rattled into the basket.
“When I released that shot, I kind of tried to step back for a 3, but when I released my hands I knew it was going in,” Smith said.
Smith blocked a shot at the start of the second overtime, but Lincoln again fell behind by four at 50-46 after four consecutive missed shots.
Smith scored with 26 seconds left to make it a two-point game, and Alcorn answered two free throws by the Cardinals’ Aden Slone with a 3-pointer at :16.
After a timeout, Smith just missed a steal, and Slone, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the overtime periods, hit two more free throws to make it 54-51.
Smith got one last shot, a college-range 3-pointer from just left of the key that was contested by Slone, but it came up short.
“I knew it was a little off,” Smith said. “I was a little off balance. I didn’t get as balanced as I wanted, and it didn’t go our way.”
Alcorn scored 19 points and Smith had 14 for Lincoln, and both were named to the all-tournament team.
Sims had a team-high eight rebounds and Davis had seven boards and the Patriots had 13 offensive rebounds as they outrebounded the Cardinals 36-32.
Parrish scored 16 points to lead GRC, which didn’t lose a game to a Kentucky school all season.
Alcorn scored seven points in the third quarter to help Lincoln complete its comeback and had all but four of his points after halftime.
“Our offense really (starts) between me and Jaxon,” Alcorn said. “If they’re face-guarding him I’ve got to go, and we had space and I had open shots.”
The Patriots missed 11 of their first 12 shots from the field and were just 4 for 20 when they fell behind 23-10 midway through the third quarter.
“You get to this point in the year, you have to play the way you play. You can’t change the way you play on a Saturday morning,” Jackson said. “We did what we did and tried to put ourselves in position to win, and we did that.”
GRC coach Josh Cook said the Cardinals defended better when they had fresher legs.
“Once we got tired and Lincoln County got that belief, they hit shot after shot, so I’m just proud our guys kept believing and kept grinding,” Cook said.
The Patriots shot 41 percent (16 for 39) over the balance of the game, while the Cardinals, who were averaging 84.3 points per game, shot 30 percent (9 for 30) over the same span after hitting nine of their first 19 shots.
“We (told) our kids (to) just continue to defend and rebound and move the ball a little bit better and get in a little better flow,” Jackson said. “We got out of sync offensively early, but as the game went on I thought we played hard and we did some things defensively that allowed us to do some things offensively.”
GRC led 27-16 at the midpoint of the third quarter, but the Patriots scored seven unanswered points in just 1:22 to get back in the game. Ralston hit a 3-pointer, Alcorn got a layup and Sims buried a 3 that sent the large crowd of Lincoln fans into a frenzy.
Alcorn answered two GRC free throws with a putback that resulted in a three-point play, and Clayton Davis followed with a steal and scored on another putback to tie the game at 29-all with 25 seconds left in the third period.
Davis hit two free throws with 4:04 left in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 45-all after the Cardinals had regained a four-point lead, and there was no further scoring until Alcorn’s drive gave the Patriots the lead at the 1:46 mark.
“It was a great game with two very, very good teams,” Jackson said.
And while it was not the ending the Patriots wanted, it was a better result than many expected when the Sweet 16 began.
Even Jackson said his team overachieved, and he said he knows why.
“I think we’ve got kids that care about each other, and I think they have bought into each other and I think they care about the name on the front of that jersey,” he said. “And I know they care about each other, and I know they wanted to come up here and play their best and give the best effort they could, to represent what we do the right way, and I think they’ve done that.
“There’s nobody out there more proud of a group of kids than I am.”
KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen
GEORGE ROGERS CLARK (36-1) — Trent Edwards 2-6 3-4 7, Tanner Walton 2-6 2-2 6, Aden Slone 3-6 8-9 14, Jerone Morton 5-16 0-0 11, Sam Parrish 6-11 2-2 16, Reshaun Hampton 0-3 0-0 0, Sammy Hernandez 0-0 0-0 0, Tyleik Maxwell 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-49 15-17 54.
LINCOLN COUNTY (31-8) — Jackson Sims 3-8 0-2 7, Tramane Alcorn 7-20 4-5 19, Jaxon Smith 6-13 2-2 14, Colton Ralston 3-7 0-0 7, Clayton Davis 1-10 2-2 4, Connor Davis 0-1 0-0 0, Jackson Withrow 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-59 8-11 51.
GRC 13 23 31 38 46 54
Lincoln 6 14 29 38 46 51
3-Point Goals—G.R. Clark 3-15 (Edwards 0-2, Walton 0-2, Slone 0-2, Morton 1-4, Parrish 2-2), Lincoln County 3-15 (Sims 1-6, Alcorn 1-2, Smith 0-1, Ralston 1-3, Davis 0-3). Fouled Out—Walton. Rebounds—G.R. Clark 32 (Edwards 10), Lincoln County 36 (Sims 8). Assists—G.R. Clark 5 (Morton 3), Lincoln County 5 (Cl. Davis 3). Total Fouls—G.R. Clark 11, Lincoln County 13. A—10,569.