Lincoln boys top West Jessamine to return to regional title game

Published 3:11 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2023

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Contributing Writer

STANFORD — Where would you rather be?

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The Lincoln County Patriots get one more game on their home court, with an army of red-clad fans backing them, for a second straight trip to the state tournament.

It’s a best-case scenario for the Patriots, who earned the opportunity to play for the regional title by beating West Jessamine 55-44 on Monday night in a boys 12th Region Tournament semifinal.

“This is the greatest moment in sports, to play for a region championship,” Lincoln guard Colton Ralston said. “Two years ago we got beat on our own floor in the region championship, so we’re going to try to get our payback tomorrow.”

Lincoln (24-9) will play Pulaski County at 7 p.m. Tuesday at J.C. Eddelman Gymnasium in a rematch of last season’s thrilling title game, which the Patriots won in overtime on a buzzer-beating shot by Ralston.

The Patriots punched their ticket to the finals by getting some separation from West Jessamine in the fourth quarter, and in so doing gave Jackson his 400th coaching win in 20 seasons at Lincoln.

Jackson is 400-227 (.638) at Lincoln, where his teams have won four 12th Region championships and 12 45th District titles. His career record is 663-383 (.634) in 34 seasons, and he ranks fourth among active coaches and 16th overall in Kentucky in career wins.

As has been the case so often with Jackson’s teams, defense and rebounding were the catalysts in Lincoln’s win.

“I thought we defended really well, picked the intensity up and did a good job of rebounding the basketball,” Lincoln coach Jeff Jackson said.

West Jessamine (22-11), which had won 17 of its previous 19 games, went just 4 for 13 from the field in the fourth quarter. It took twice as many 3-point shots in the final period as it had in the first three, going 1 for 8 from behind the line.

“We just guarded,” Ralston said. “That’s what we preached on defense: ‘We’ve got to get down, lock down and guard,’ and that’s what we did. We wanted them to take contested shots and then get the first rebound.”

The Colts got only one offensive rebound in the fourth quarter as the Patriots outrebounded them 9-6 after being outrebounded 19-12 through three periods. Ralston had half of his game-high eight rebounds in the fourth quarter, and Alcorn and Blade Nuckols had two each.

“You’ve got to rebound when you play them because they hit the glass so hard,’ Jackson said.

Ralston scored 17 points, Connor Davis had 14 and Tramane Alcorn had 11 for Lincoln, which shot 51 percent from the field and turned the ball over only eight times.

Tramane Alcorn got to the basket for three straight layups and got a three-point play on one of them to give the Patriots a 43-34 lead with 5:47 remaining.

Lincoln didn’t score again for 3½ minutes, but West Jessamine couldn’t take advantage of its defensive stops, turning the ball over twice and scoring only five points during that span to pull within four.

Alcorn found a wide-open Jackson Sims under the basket for a layup that made it 45-39 with 2:15 to play, and he followed a miss on the other end with two free throws. Another West Jessamine miss led to another wide-open layup by Sims that capped a 6-0 surge and made it 49-39 with 2:26 left.

“We made some pretty good passes, got a couple layups, got our hands on some basketballs and got some transition baskets,” Jackson said.

Jackson said reserves Will Bishop and Jalen Smith also made big plays in the fourth quarter, though neither of them scored.

“Will and Jalen stepped up and gave us production and helped us a lot, especially on the defensive end,” the coach said.

Lincoln sank six of eight free throws in the final minute to seal its seventh straight win over West Jessamine over the past five seasons, including a 71-68 victory on Dec. 13.

There were three ties and four lead changes before Davis opened the second half with a jump shot that broke a 21-all halftime tie and gave Lincoln the lead for good.

The Patriots led by as many as eight points in the third quarter before the Colts scored six straight points. A layup by Daniel Waters, who led them with 12 points, capped that run and brought West Jessamine within 36-34 with 7:28 to play.

Lincoln now faces another battle with Pulaski (26-6), which advanced with a 44-41 victory over McCreary Central. Jackson said he’s glad that game will be at home, though he said that guarantees nothing.

“We like playing at home, but we’re going to have to earn it,” he said. “It’ll be a battle tomorrow night.”

The two teams have met in each of the past three regionals, and the Patriots have won two of those games, including last year’s memorable title game, and they have won four of their last five against the Maroons.

Lincoln shot 62 percent from the field in a surprisingly easy 76-49 home victory over Pulaski on Jan. 3, but Jackson said that game isn’t indicative of how good the Maroons are.

“They’re very experienced, very strong and physical, and they really play hard,” he said. “It’ll be another good ballgame, I’m sure, from start to finish.”

Lincoln will be seeking its seventh regional title — and its third in five years — in its 11th trip to the title game.