After losing the Academic Athletic Association-San Francisco Section championship a season ago in triple-overtime, the Mustangs assured themselves that they’ll get an opportunity to erase that bad memory.
Behind their suffocating man-to-man defense, Lincoln blew it open in the second half against Lowell, building an 18-point lead en route to a 56-44 win in the AAA semifinals at Kezar Pavilion on Wednesday.
Lincoln (23-8, 14-0) will take on Thurgood Marshall on Friday night in the championship. Marshall knocked off Mission 67-66 in the first AAA semifinal game. Lincoln beat Marshall 47-31 when they met during the regular season.
“We want to be greater than the AAA, because we don’t get respect as a league,” Lincoln coach Matt Jackson said. “When we play well and play together, we feel we’re just as good as any team in the Bay Area.”
Da’Vion Telfor led Lincoln with a solid all-around game (21 points, five rebounds, four steals and two blocks), and 6-foot-7 senior center Seth Snoddy chipped in with a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds). It was the Mustangs’ second-half defense, however, that was the difference. With a 31-24 lead entering the third quarter, Lincoln outscored Lowell 16-7 in the quarter.
Junior Jemeil King’s 3-pointer before the end of the third quarter gave Lincoln a commanding 47-31 lead going into the final period.
However, no defensive sequence symbolized Lincoln’s dominance more than a stretch with 5:38 left in the game, when Snoddy and Telfor made back-to-back emphatic blocks, and thus forced Lowell into a shot-clock violation.
“We got the job done defensively when we needed to,” Jackson said. “We got stops, we got deflections, we got blocks and that translated into some easy buckets.”
Lowell’s (18-10, 10-4) season ended, but in the process it showed plenty of fight. But the Cardinals’ offense stalled against Lincoln’s man-to-man defense in the pivotal third as they went 1-of-11 from the field in that quarter and turned the ball over six times (18 total in the game).
Lowell showed early on that it wouldn’t roll over, exchanging baskets against the favored Mustangs. Junior guard Soren Carpenter’s three-point play with 42 seconds left in the first quarter gave Lowell a brief 14-12 lead. But after senior guard Evan Louie came up gimpy after banging his left knee with a Mustangs defender, the Cardinals weren’t the same offensively.
At halftime, Lowell went into the locker room shooting 45 percent, but after Louie’s knee swelled up, Lowell struggled against the bigger and more athletic Mustangs. The Cardinals shot 19 percent in the second half, which wasn’t enough to overcome the top team in the AAA.
“First and foremost, credit Lincoln. They’re long, athletic, and they know what they want to do, and do it,” Lowell coach Rob Ray said. “What really hurt us was when Louie got hurt, and we don’t win without him, and he’s the heart and soul of our team.”