The PA announcer inside the gym was disappointed in the early part of the third quarter. A crowd filled with students inside Boys & Girls High School was practically silent, as Lincoln had complete control of the game.
"Let's get some energy in here," stated the man behind the microphone. That energy would come only a few minutes later, as the Kangaroos embarked on a furious comeback that led them to a 67-66 win over the defending New York State Federation champions on Tuesday evening.
Coach Dwayne Morton's Railsplitters played a rough opening minute and a half, but countered with a strong rest of the quarter, as they went on a 14-2 run after starting the game down 6-0. The attack by the Coney Island school was led by juniors Darwin "Buddha" Ellis and Lance Stephenson, as the guards were aggressive offensively and capitalized on several defensive breakdowns by "The High." A three-pointer from Stephenson with 2:20 to go in the first quarter gave Lincoln a commanding 21-11 lead. The Coney Island school finished the opening session and headed into the second quarter with a 25-17 advantage over the Kangaroos.
Coach Ruth Lovelace's squadron contained a wounded soldier, as Rutgers-bound senior forward Patrick Jackson came into this game with an injured ankle and didn't start. He played sparingly but didn't score a single point during the game in the Bedford-Stuyvesant gym on Tuesday afternoon. However, the rest of her frontcourt stepped up early in the match to keep the Kangaroos within a reachable distance on the scoreboard. Athletic 6'8" forward Kyrie Sutton used a soft touch around the rim while frontcourt-mate David Imes shot the ball well from the perimeter early on. 6'1" guard Clayton Sterling, who attacked the rim and often found an open outside shooter along the three-point arc, made the plays in the backcourt.
Lovelace's team, who trailed by double digits for much of the first half, was able to cut the lead to single digits and went into halftime down 42-33 to Lincoln.
Lance Stephenson led all scorers at the half with 13 points, while "Buddha" Ellis chipped in with 9 points for the Railsplitters. Clayton Sterling led the Kangaroos with 9 points, while the senior division-one prospect Sutton contributed with 8 points.
The second half set a great tone to start the quarter, as coach Morton used a number of different defenses to keep Boys & Girls on their toes and constantly guessing. Lincoln was able to force their Brooklyn rival into many turnovers and well contested shots. A Timothy Flowers lay-up with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter increased the Lincoln lead to 54-38. The Kangaroos were able to rip the momentum right away from the Railsplitters, as they were on a 14-4 run to end the quarter, and headed into the final quarter in a very manageable 58-52 deficit.
While Lincoln played strong basketball to start the third quarter, the same could not be said for the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Turnovers plagued the Coney Island school, as the home crowd inside the Boys & Girls gymnasium got right back into the game and a comeback loomed on the horizon. With 6:20 remaining in the fourth quarter, news got even worse for Lincoln, as junior phenom Lance Stephenson picked up his fourth foul and was forced to the bench for the next two minutes of game's action.
It was a whole new ballgame when Stephenson returned with 4:21 to go in the game, as senior Brandon Romain, who made a number of huge baskets during the Kangaroos' comeback, tied the game at 62 with a jump shot. Coach Morton looked on in disgust as his team continued to turn the ball over constantly and lost the lead entirely with 1:44 to go when Brandon Romain knocked down one of two free throws to give Boys & Girls a 65-64 lead.
Both teams would be aggressive towards the basket and virtually trade free throw opportunities for the rest of the way. Vincent Council of Lincoln would get fouled on consecutive Lincoln possessions and knocked down a total of two out of those four free throws to give Lincoln the lead back at 66-65. With 24.2 seconds to go in regulation, Clayton Sterling was fouled once again and converted both clutch free throws to give "The High" a 67-66 lead.
During Lincoln's final possession, Coach Lovelace pleaded to her team to clamp down on defense. "During the last timeout (before Lincoln's final possession), I just said that these last seconds wouldn't be so much about skill but more about heart and who would grind in the most and leave the most on the floor," said Lovelace after the game. To no surprise, the ball was in Stephenson's hand as he took the ball to the basket, only to have his shot emphatically rejected out of bounds with nine seconds remaining on the clock. Those final nine seconds would "last forever" according the Lovelace, as Lincoln got several shot around the rim, but none would go down, as the horn would sound and the fans frantically stormed the Brooklyn court.
Brandon Romain, who led the comeback and finished with 20 points and 7 rebounds in the game, said that while this win is satisfying, there are bigger games to come. "We'll play them harder in the borough's (borough playoffs)," said Romain following the game.
The entire game can be seen on The High School Basketball Network by going to www.HSBnetwork.TV
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