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Hornets advance to semis with win over two-time defending state champs

DEL MAR HEIGHTS – Working to establish itself as a state power, Lincoln took a big step on Tuesday in the ESPN iScore Holiday Classic. The Hornets beat two-time defending state champion Los Angeles Westchester 62-56 in the National Division quarterfinals at Torrey Pines High.

“It means a lot to be able to show that San Diego has good basketball players and good basketball programs and that we can match L.A. and everybody around the country,” said Lincoln guard Norman Powell.

The top-ranked team in San Diego, Lincoln (10-0) battled nerves early against Westchester. The Hornets trailed the Comets 10-3 midway through the first quarter, looking out or sorts on both ends of the floor.

“I think that we had a little bit of jitters,” said Lincoln head coach Jason Bryant. “The mystique of Westchester kind of got to us in the first six or seven minutes of the first quarter.”

After a timeout, Lincoln settled down and got back into rhythm. The Hornets trailed 14-12 at the end of the first quarter after turning up the intensity.

“We had to come out and match their toughness; they’re Westchester and they’re used to this,” Powell said. “We had to show them that we were not about to be bullied or pushed around.”

Lincoln went on a 10-0 run at the beginning of the second quarter and led by three at halftime. Looking more comfortable in the third quarter, the Hornets scored the first eight points of the second half and opened up a 14-point lead midway through the quarter.

“Once we settled down I think we were fine,” Bryant said.

Powell hit a three-pointer late in the third quarter to give Lincoln a 53-42 lead after Weschester (9-3) closed the gap to eight points. In the fourth quarter the Comets slowly chipped away at the Hornets’ lead, eventually pulling to within two, 58-56, on a Robert Gsellman three-pointer with 3:41 left.

“These games are nerveracking,” Bryant said. “Every team is a top level team and it’s going to be a battle every time we come out.”

Both teams went scoreless over the next three minutes until Powell drove to the hoop and converted a three-point play to make it 61-56. Powell punctuated Lincoln’s win by finishing an alley oop off the backboard from teammate Tyree Robinson in the game’s closing seconds.

“I screamed as loud as I could to throw it off the backboard because I saw No. 24 trying to catch up to Tyree and foul him,” Powell said. “He threw it and I went up and got it.”

Powell led all scorers with 19 points, and was one of three Lincoln players in double figures. The UCLA-bound senior shot 7-for-11 from the field and delivered a handful of clutch shots in the second half.

“I’ve been going through a shooting slump, but I believed that my shot was going to come and I was going to get buckets and that’s what I did,” Powell said.

Lincoln advances to the National Division semifinals Wednesday at 7 p.m. where they will meet Long Beach Poly (10-0). Oakland Bishop O’Dowd (7-1) and St. Edward (Ohio) (5-1) play in the other semifinal.

“For us to have an opportunity to go to the semifinals and play the No. 1 team in California to get to the finals, you can’t ask for any more than that,” Bryant said.

Gsellman led Westchester with 17 points. The Comets scored 14 points exactly in each quarter. Trevone Williams (11 points) and Keywhon Powns (10) also had double figures for the Comets.

Lincoln – 62 (12-19-22-9)

Powell 19, Tyrell Robinson 15, Tyree Robinson 10, Kevin Smith 3, Simpson 0 (starters) Josh Smith 7, Cobb 5, Byrd 4

Westchester – 56 (14-14-14-14)

Gsellman 17, Williams 11, Powns 10, Wilson 1, Evans 1 (starters) Leverette 6, Grant 5, Romano 5

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