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Missed free throws haunt Hornets in first loss of season

DEL MAR HEIGHTS – Facing state power and nationally ranked Long Beach Poly in the ESPN iScore Holiday Classic, Lincoln came up just short. The Hornets fell 66-65 to the Jackrabbits in the National Division semifinals at Torrey Pines High.

“It was a great game – that’s why we play,” said Lincoln head coach Jason Bryant. “We win some and we lose some, but as long as we play hard I can’t really be angry.”

What might make the Hornets angry were a handful of missed free throws down the stretch, including guard Norman Powell missing one of two attempts with 5.8 seconds left in a two-point game. After a Poly missed free throw, Lincoln (10-1) pushed the ball up the court but guard Rasean Simpson could not get a shot off in the midst of two Jackrabbits.

“The free throws were a huge issue for us,” Bryant said. “If we would have made half our free throws we would have won, but we didn’t and that’s just how the game goes.”

Trailing 59-47 with seven minutes left after Poly (11-0) scored the first four points of the fourth quarter, Lincoln began to attack the basket and slowly chipped away at the Jackrabbits’ lead. With a minute left, Powell drove the lane and tied the game at 64.

“I still felt like we had a chance to win. We have a team full of winners and I knew they weren’t going to give up,” Bryant said. “I knew we were going to continue to play hard and I felt like we were going to win in the last two minutes.”

Poly went ahead 66-64 with two Jordan Bell free throws with 41.6 seconds left. Lincoln had multiple chances in the final minute but simply couldn’t convert.

“I like how we persevered. We never gave up and still believed we had a chance to win even when we were down,” Bryant said. “I could see in their eyes that they were going to compete until the final buzzer and that’s what they did.”

Lincoln led 23-21 after a fast first quarter, but fell behind when Poly played physical in the second quarter. Jackrabbits guard Alexis Moore hit a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer to put Poly ahead 43-37 at the break.

“We got physical in the fourth quarter but that was three quarters too late,” Bryant said. “We need to start from the beginning and set the tone and let teams know how we are going to play. That is something we need to emphasize.”

With its press neutralized by Poly’s speed and ball handling, Lincoln had trouble closing the gap in the third quarter. The Hornets couldn’t get closer than seven headed into the fourth quarter.

“It’s hard to press good teams that handle the ball well, that pass well. A couple times we tried it but it just didn’t work,” Bryant said. “We had to just pick up full and take our chances with man-to-man.”

With a local crowd behind them, Lincoln nearly came back in the final quarter. The Hornets played aggressively down the stretch.

“We need to have that aggressive attitude from tipoff,” Bryant said. “We can’t come out and not be physical and let them push us around for three quarters and decide to play in the fourth quarter.”

Simpson led Lincoln with 21 points, with Powell (17 points) and Tyree Robinson (10) also scoring in double figures. For Poly, forward Ryan Anderson led the way with a game-high 26 points.

Lincoln will play St. Edward (Lakewood, Ohio) (5-2) in the National Division third place game at 6:40 p.m. Thursday at Torrey Pines High. Poly will meet Oakland Bishop O’Dowd (8-1) in the championship at 8:15 p.m.

Long Beach Poly – 66 (21-22-12-11)

Anderson 26, Moore 15, Camper 11, Prince 5, Carmon 2 (starters) Croom 3, Pettway 2, Bell 2

Lincoln – 65 (23-14-10-18)

Simpson 21, Powell 17, Tyree Robinson 10, Tyrell Robinson 7, Kevin Smith 0 (starters) Cobb 8, Josh Smith 2

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