By Mike Marsee
LEXINGTON — Lincoln County is getting deeply involved now.
The Patriots ventured into uncharted territory — at least for them — on Friday when they advanced to the Boys Sweet 16 semifinals for the first time in school history.
Buoyed by a strong second quarter run, Lincoln reached the third row of the state tournament table with a 56-46 win over North Oldham at Rupp Arena.
The Patriots shrugged off a slow start and took the lead with a 12-0 run in the second quarter, and they never let it go.
“We just told our kids to keep playing,” Lincoln coach Jeff Jackson said. “We have 17 and 18 year olds and they’re playing on the big stage, and it’s just a good time to have fun and play together and enjoy the experience. Go ahead, play hard and have fun.
For the first time in school history, Lincoln is one of the last four teams standing.
“They took me on a great ride,” Jackson said.
The ride continues Saturday when Lincoln (31-7) takes on George Rogers Clark (35-1), who is widely considered the tournament favorite, at 11 a.m. for a spot in the championship game that night.
Lincoln, the first 12th Region team to reach the last four since Boyle County in 2015, finished North Oldham (19-13) in the fourth quarter as they fought their way through pressure and pitfalls of the Mustangs and hit free throws at a better rate than they had two days earlier in their first-round victory.
“I’m really proud of the kids for taking care of some things with basketball late in the game, moving the ball and making good shots,” Jackson said. “And we stepped up and made our free throws today.”
Lincoln laid the groundwork for their second-period victory, when he scored the first 12 points to erase North Oldham’s 12-11 lead.
Tramane Alcorn, the Patriots’ leading scorer this season, scored nine of those points and led the Patriots with 15 after being held to six on Wednesday in their first-round win over Jeffersontown.
Alcorn gave Lincoln an 11-10 lead with a steal and a layup in the closing seconds of the first quarter, and he got to the basket for a layup under 10 seconds into the second quarter to give the Patriots the advantage for good at 13-12.
The junior guard followed with a 3-pointer, another steal and a lay-up and, after Jackson Sims sank a 3-point shot, a lay-up on a Sims pass following an offensive rebound from Clayton Davis who gave Lincoln a 23-12 with 4:20 remaining in the first half.
“Tramane can score and he attacks that basket really well. And he did a good job defensively, got a few interceptions and came out in transition,” Jackson said.
Lincoln took a 29-18 halftime lead after going 8-for-12 from the field in the second quarter.
“That second quarter really killed us,” said North Oldham coach David Levitch. “It was a bit difficult to make up for that.”
The Patriots scored the first five points of the third quarter, and after North Oldham clinched seven straight points, they responded with an 11-1 run that gave them their biggest lead at 44-26 with 22 seconds left. in the period.
That push included a 3-pointer from Clayton Davis as well as 3s from Connor Davis and Jalen Smith, the younger brothers of Clayton Davis and Jaxon Smith, who were on the floor alongside their older siblings.
“He hasn’t had much time this year, but he’s really improved in this tournament,” Jaxon Smith said. “He played some big minutes last game, and he hit a huge 3 that gave us momentum tonight, so I was really proud of him.”
“Same with Connor,” Clayton Davis said. “I’m sure he was really nervous – he told me he was nervous – but he came in and hit a big 3 and I’m proud of him.”
North Oldham increased their pressure and Lincoln turned the ball over on their first three trips and four of their first six possessions in the fourth quarter. Ian Higdon, who led the Mustangs with 20 points and 10 rebounds, scored five points in a 7-0 run that brought them down to 44-33.
But they only got a little closer — 50-41 at 2:05 — once the Patriots settled in.
“We had to adapt to it,” Jaxon Smith said. “(Jackson has) done a really good job of planning this year, and there’s nothing we haven’t seen, so when they threw this at us in the fourth quarter, we just had to adjust, and a once we took control and hit our free throws, we had control of the game.
Lincoln made seven of 10 free throws in the 2:30 final – Clayton Davis was 4 for 6 and Colton Ralston was 2 for 2 – and the Patriots were 11 for 16 total on the line after making 13 for 22 and missing several shots on the stretch against J-Town.
The Patriots shot 46% from the field and went 9 for 18 from 3-point range, with seven different players sinking 3s.
Jaxon Smith had 11 points, Ralston had 10 and Clayton Davis had eight, while Alcorn had four assists for the Patriots.
The Mustangs shot just 29 percent from the field through the first three quarters and finished 38 percent, but were 2 for 16 from 3-point range.
“We struggled to shoot in the second half,” Levitch said. “They are very aggressive, they have very good defenders on the ball. They’re solid and their pick-and-roll coverage is really good.
“It’s just a very physical, well-trained ball club, and we just couldn’t really get what we wanted.”
Lincoln’s two tournament opponents are a combined 4 for 35 (11%) from long range.
Another key to Lincoln’s advancement was bouncing back. The Patriots outshot the Mustangs 29-25 and allowed just five offensive boards.
“That was key No. 1, we felt, going into the game. We had to neutralize them and get them as far away from the glass as possible,” Jackson said. “They’re a very, very good offensive rebounding team, and I think we’ve done a good job of taking them a little bit further up the field, and our kids have fought with them on the inside.”
George Rogers Clark, led by former Mercer County coach Josh Cook, is a scoring machine whose offense was slow on Friday in their 43-38 victory over Pikeville.
The Cardinals entered the tournament averaging a state-leading 84.3 ppg, beating teams by a game-high 31.8 ppg and shooting 54% from the field, but they didn’t shot just 31% in their narrow quarter-final victory.
GRC has one of the best players in the state in guard Jerome Morton (19.2 points per game), who leads a powerful junior class.
The Cardinals’ only loss was a two-point loss to South Carolina powerhouse Dorman in December.
“They’re very, very well trained and very skilled,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be one hell of a basketball game.”
KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen
NORTH OLDHAM (19-13) – Ian Higdon 8-13 4-6 20, Luke Anderson 2-4 0-3 4, Dallas Roberts 1-11 2-4 4, Jack Scales 5-14 0-0 12, Grant Neal 3-6 0-0 6, Jack Fischer 0-0 0-0 0, Keaton Whitt 0-0 0-0 0, Benjamin Becarra 0-1 0-0 0, Miles Gay 0-1 0-0 0, Ryan Howard 0-0 0-0 0, Aaron Judd 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan Kelly 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-50 6-13 46.
LINCOLN COUNTY (31-7) – Jackson Sims 2-3 0-0 6, Tramane Alcorn 6-10 2-4 15, Jaxon Smith 4-9 2-2 11, Colton Ralston 3-8 2-2 10 , Sawyer Horton 0-0 0-0 0, Jalen Smith 1-2 0-0 3, Connor Davis 1-2 0-0 3, Blade Nuckols 0-0 0-0 0, Trevor Miracle 0-0 0-0 0 , Seth Horton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-39 11-16 56.
North Oldham 12 18 28 46
Lincoln County 11 29 44 56
3-point goals—North Oldham 2-16 (Roberts 0-3, Scales 2-10, Neal 0-2, Becarra 0-1), Lincoln County 9-18 (Sims 2-3, Alcorn 1-2, Jax. Smith 1-3, Ralston 2-4, Cl. Davis 1-4, Jal. Smith 1-1, Co. Davis 1-1). Fouling—None. Rebounds—North Oldham 25 (Hidgon 10), Lincoln County 29 (Sims 8). Aids—North Oldham 12 (Anderson 5), Lincoln County 11 (Alcorn 4). Total Fouls—North Oldham 14, Lincoln County 11. A—12,479.