Robert Bush 8:15 a.m., March 10
Lincoln narrowly beats rival Morse to advance to D-II finals
In only its third year since the school re-opened, it hasn’t taken the Lincoln basketball program long to climb to elite status. The second-seed Hornets advanced to the Division II finals with a narrow 60-59 win Tuesday over rival and third-seed Morse in the semifinals.
“Last year we had a heartbreaker out in Oceanside and I didn’t want to feel that pain again,” said Lincoln head coach Jason Bryant. “I was trying to coach from beginning to end and keep the guys in it from beginning to end and I’m glad we pulled it out.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Lincoln (24-2) held a nine-point lead and looked like they would be able to win comfortably. But Morse (23-9) didn’t go away, scoring 10 points in a row to take a 52-51 lead on a Kris Cook reverse layup with four minutes left.
“They have a never say die attitude,” Bryant said. “Morse is a tough team and a lot of people don’t give them credit for being a tough team.”
Following Cook’s score both teams went back and forth in a frantic finish. With 33 seconds left, Lincoln guard Rasean Simpson broke a 58-58 tie with a layup.
In the final 22 seconds Lincoln won the game with their defense, preventing Morse from getting off a potential game-winning shot in each of its final three possessions. Lincoln hung on to win by one despite missing the front end of three one-and-ones to close out the game.
“That was old demons. Last year we shot about 50 percent from the line and the same thing happened today,” Bryant said. “Hopefully we can correct that by Friday.”
Lincoln raced out to a 12-0 lead to start the game, overwhelming Morse in the opening minutes. The Hornets led by eight after one and had a 39-28 lead at the half.
“I thought we were playing well but I never thought the game was over,” Bryant said. “Morse is a very tough team and I knew they would be motivated to come back and make a game of it and that’s what they did.”
Defense took over in the third quarter, with Lincoln leading by as much as 17 but never able to but the Morse away. The Hornets led by nine when the Tigers made their run in the fourth.
“I knew coming in that they would never quit and I knew this would be a tough game because it is an old rivalry,” Bryant said. “The crowd is here, everybody is hyped up to play, so I knew it would be tough from start to finish.”
Lincoln was led by guard Norman Powell’s 18 points. Forward Victor Dean also finished in double figures with 16.
“It was a great environment and I’m just glad we came out with the win,” Bryant said
With the win, Lincoln advances to play top-seed Hoover (26-5) on Friday in a highly anticipated matchup between the section’s two best teams. The Hornets and Cardinals have been on a collision course all season.
“We’re the same team as Hoover,” Bryant said. “It should be a great game.”
The Hornets also clinch a berth in the state playoffs, their first since the school re-opened in 2007.
“It means everything. This is our third year being open and I think that says a lot for this school and what it has accomplished,” Bryant said. “Great things are happening here at Lincoln academically and athletically and I’m glad to represent Lincoln in CIF.”
In a losing effort, guard Deonte Flowers scored a game-high 21 points for Morse, including hitting 12-of-15 free throws. Cook and Darreon Tolliver also finished in double figures for the Tigers.
Lincoln – 60 (19-20-10-11)
Powell 18, Dean 16, Tyree Robinson 6, Tyrell Robinson 3, Maxey 2 (starters) Byrd 8, Simpson 6, K. Smith 3
Morse – 59 (11-17-12-19)
Flowers 21, Cook 11, Tolliver 10, Simmons 5, Cherry 4 (starters) Hicks 6, Bryant 2
Lincoln guard Tyree Robinson goes up for a shot against Morse forward Darreon Tolliver