The Northwest Mustangs held off the Lincoln Cardinals to win 48-45 in the first round of the Kaysinger Conference boys basketball tournament on Friday night at the Fred E. Davis Multipurpose Center.
Lincoln missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds that would have tied the game. The Cardinals grabbed the offensive rebound, but Northwest’s Cortlen Austin deflected a pass to keep Lincoln from setting up for another shot.
“We were trying to get out and play some defense,” Austin said. “We were in foul trouble and didn’t have all the guys we wanted to have out there the whole game, but we just had to get out there and play defense.”
Austin finished the game with four fouls and had to miss parts of both halves in foul trouble. Ryan Rafferty fouled out and Daniel Blaylock finished with four. With those players out, the Mustangs relied on Trey Green, Garren Powell and Matthew Locke for significant minutes off the bench.
“They stepped up,” said Northwest coach Justin Wiskur. “Trey Green and Matthew Locke played a lot of big minutes and gave us really good defense at the top of that 2-3 zone.”
The game was tied at 32 heading into the fourth quarter before the lead changed hands several times. A Green steal and a layup put the Mustangs ahead 35-32, but Lincoln answered with layups from Corbin Mertgen and Ryan Eckhoff to take a 36-35 lead with 5:20 to play.
After Austin took a charge to stop Lincoln’s next possession, Blaylock hit a layup to put Northwest back in the lead. Mason Sanders answered with a jumper. Blaylock rebounded a missed 3-pointer and got the putback as part of a three-point play, and the Mustangs never trailed again. Austin and Green added baskets, as Northwest built a three-point lead that survived the final Lincoln chance.
Austin finished with 21 points, scoring 13 of those in the second quarter, getting plenty of looks off ball screens. Rafferty finished with nine.
Northwest shot 18 of 43 from the field in the game.
“We weren’t running our offense very well; we did a lot of standing around,” Wiskur said. “We were lucky to walk out of here with a win with as much standing around as I saw on offense.”
Northwest led 23-18 at the half and extended that to 31-21 early in the third when the press resulted in three consecutive layups for Rafferty. Even when Lincoln got back to stop Rafferty, he found Chandler Crosswhite for another layup.
“We just run the floor,” Austin said. “We were able to get the rebound and Rafferty was able to get ahead and I was able to find him for the layup.”
But Lincoln forced turnovers on nine of the next 10 Northwest possessions, including several stolen inbounds passes, and Boone Kroenke turned those chances into points with a pair of 3-pointers and a pair of layups, as the Cardinals tied the game.
“I thought we just played with more hustle and energy,” said Lincoln coach Tyler Burke. “We’re young and we’re small, and the pace has to be a certain way for us to be successful, and it finally got there. In the first half, it never got there, and in the third quarter, it finally got there and we got back in the game.”
Overall, the Cardinals forced 20 turnovers in the game with half of those coming in the third quarter.
“We just picked up the pressure a little bit and got back into the game that way,” Burke said. “We know that it’s hard for us to score in the halfcourt, so any time we can get transition offense, it helps us score.”
But after turning the ball over so many times in the third quarter, the Mustangs committed no turnovers in the fourth.
“Their guards were giving our ball handlers a ton of trouble,” Wiskur said. “I don’t know how many times they just picked our pockets clean. We just talked about having to use the other hand. We’re so right-hand dominant, they were reading that and they were picking it. We talked about just trying to be patient.”
Kroenke finished with 16 points for Lincoln.
“He did a good job driving and kicking and attacking the rim,” Burke said. “That’s the way we have to play to be successful.”
Northwest (5-12) will face No. 1 seed Sacred Heart in the quarterfinal at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
Lincoln (2-13) will face either Smithton or Windsor at 6 p.m. Monday.