Lincoln's boys basketball team has dropped its last three games thanks in large part to bad starts that have been plagued by turnovers. The Alices hope to turn it around Friday as they open up Big Eight Conference play against Mount Carmel, Ill., at Alice Arena for a 6:30 p.m. junior varsity start.
Lincoln (1-3, 0-0 Big Eight) has lost its last three games by margins of 12, 16 and 12 to Evansville Mater Dei, Evansville Reitz and Linton. Against the Panthers and Miners last weekend, the Alices dug themselves early holes of 10-0 and 10-2. Against Evansville Mater Dei, the Lincoln lull didn't come until the second quarter. With the Alices leading, 12-11, the Wildcats put together nine straight points and never trailed again.
Avoiding those spurts will be key for Lincoln on Friday.
"We talk all the time about the importance of the first five possessions of each half, and the last five possessions of each half. Most high school games have about 50 possessions, so that's 20 possessions that are very important, how you start and finish each half," Lincoln coach Steve Brett said. "We have to do a better job of that. The last three games we haven't gotten off to good starts, and that affects us mentally more than anything else. We have to get tougher in that aspect. We can't worry about missed shots. We have to keep shooting the shots we're getting.
"Those kinds of things indicate how tough you are mentally, and we have to get tougher."
Brett plans on starting the same all-senior frontcourt of 6-4 Isaac Lane (12.3 points per game), 6-2 Hunter Hopwood (11.0) and 6-3 Braydon Robb (5.5). The guards are 5-11 senior Evan Combs (2.8) and 6-0 junior Torrence Gillis (6.5), who erupted for 14 points, including four 3-pointers, against Linton last Saturday.
"Torrence came off the bench and did a great job the other night," Brett said. "He's a streaky shooter. If he hits the first one, he's likely to hit two or three more, but if he misses the first one, he might miss the next two or three. You can tell that he's worked on his shot a lot, but I'd still like him to work on his form a little bit. But he's a good kid and he works hard."
The Golden Aces (1-6) aren't off to a hot start either, though they did pick up their first win Tuesday, a 70-62 decision at Robinson, Ill. It was the first game back for 6-6 sophomore Kaleb Applebey, who was sidelined the first six games with an ankle injury.
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Mount Carmel relies heavily on 6-4 senior Austin Rager, who averaged 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds a year ago. He put up a season-high 33 points in a 75-63 loss to Evansville North last Friday.
"They started 0-6, but I saw them (Tuesday). They played the first six without Applebey, and seeing him back for them made a difference," Brett said. "I'm not sure he scored a lot, but he and Rager worked well together in the post. We're going to have to do a good job defensively against those two.
"But I'm a bit more concerned about us than I am anyone we play. We can't go in, just because they're 1-6, and be overconfident, but I don't think we can be scared either. We need to approach it that we respect everyone, but don't fear anyone."
Expected to start alongside Rager and Applebey are 6-2 senior sharpshooter Bret Doan (12.2 ppg last year) and some combination of 6-0 senior Luke Gould, 5-10 sophomore Beau Stipp and 6-2 freshman Luke Laws.
"Two things are key for us," Brett said. "We have to get better defensively, and we have to get better at taking care of the ball. Defensively against Linton we didn't do too bad, but we have to get better. They hurt us with the 3-point shot, and they had four or five guys on the floor capable of scoring. There aren't many teams that have that, and I'm not sure Mount Carmel has that, but they certainly have two or three. Taking care of the ball and defense are our main priorities."
The series has been tight the last five years. The road team has won the past two games in the series by double figures with both teams failing to reach 45 points each year. The Alices claimed the three meetings prior to that, but each one of those was decided by five points or less, including a double-overtime win in 2013.