Lack of experience speeds end of Lincoln boys’ season

Published 5:45 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2024

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The Lincoln County boys got a lot out of a little experience, but only for so long.

The Patriots had their moments during a rebuilding year – perhaps more moments than many expected – but their lack of experience may have led to an earlier end to the season than they’re used to.

Lincoln failed to make it out of the first week of the postseason for the first time in six years, falling to Boyle County 60-46 on Thursday in a 45th District Tournament semifinal at Garrard Middle School.

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The Patriots had put together a winning season with a roster that included only one player who got significant minutes last season, but coach Jeff Jackson said the bills came due against Boyle.

“I thought our inexperience showed,” Jackson said. “It was a concern coming in, but I’m proud of our kids for the year they had. We won 16 games and a lot of people didn’t think we would get quite that many, but I’m proud of our kids for working hard every day.”

Lincoln (16-13) lost a game against Boyle that came a bit earlier than postseason games between the Patriots and Rebels usually do.

The two teams had split their previous 12 meetings over the past four seasons and had faced off for three district championships and one regional title over the past three seasons, but the trophies were still in their boxes Thursday as they played before a near-capacity crowd.

The second-seeded Patriots had beaten Boyle 62-59 on Jan. 12 on a Blake Nuckols buzzer-beater, but they were held to their lowest score of the season in a 41-32 loss Feb. 2.

In the rematch, they managed only 18 points in the first half and couldn’t catch Boyle in the second as they shot just 32 percent from the field.

“We did not move the ball. We played more like we did the second time we played them than we did the first time,” Jackson said.

As a result, Lincoln ended its run of five consecutive district championships and missed the 12th Region Tournament for the first time since 2018 and only the fourth time in 21 seasons under Jackson.

The Patriots started slowly this season, dropping their first four games and seven of their first 11, but they rallied with a run of 11 wins in 14 games that included victories over Pulaski County, North Laurel and South Laurel and a handful of close losses.

They stayed in the game against Boyle in the second half thanks largely to the work of senior Blade Nuckols, who hit six of 11 3-point attempts and scored a game-high 28 points.

Nuckols scored 17 straight points for Lincoln in a 10-minute span in the third and fourth quarters, and he had 20 of his team’s 28 second-half points.

“It was not the way he wanted to go out, but I think he represented the name on the front of that jersey well tonight and laid it on the line for his teammates and for our team,” Jackson said.

Cash Baird had eight points and three assists and Sawyer Horton had eight rebounds and three assists for Lincoln.

Nuckols was one of four seniors on the roster along with twins Sawyer and Seth Horton, who returned to the team this season, and reserve Trevor Miracle.

Nuckols, who averaged a team-high 13.9 points, and Miracle were the only players left from a three-year period in which Lincoln won 71 games, reached three straight regional finals and won the regional title in 2022.

Most of the roster consisted of freshmen and sophomores, and Jackson said they’ll be better for the experience they got this season.

“We played a freshman (Baird) at the point, we had a sophomore in Sawyer Robbins who had two points last year as a freshman … and they got better as the year went on and they really improved. Lane Sargent got some minutes and does a lot of good things, and Mason Agee improved and has gotten a lot better,” Jackson said.

Jackson said the Patriots’ offseason priorities would include work on their hands and feet.

“We’ve got to really work on our agility and get our footwork a little bit better, and we’ve got to really work on our ball-handling and give Cash another couple of kids who can help him get the ball down the floor,” he said.

The Patriots got back to work Monday, and the veteran coach said he was looking forward to it.

“We’ll be a sophomore- and junior-dominated team next year, and we’re excited about getting back into the gym and getting to work and seeing if we can go a little farther next year,” Jackson said.