The last part of the second quarter and most of the second half belonged to Grant Niehaus and Washington, but it wasn't enough.
Lincoln started and finished strong, including six straight free-throw makes in the final 30 seconds, and the Alices surprised the Class 3A honorable mention Hatchets, 65-61, in their final Big Eight Conference meeting at Alice Arena Thursday.
E Smith matched his career high with 17 points, including four consecutive free throws down the stretch. Torrence Gillis added 15 for Lincoln (7-9, 2-2 Big Eight), Payton Curry a career-best 11, and Ethan Bushey and Julius Hardiman seven. Niehaus got loose for 34 points, and Kiowa Jones scored 18, but only two others found the scoring column for Washington (14-4, 3-2).
Curry had a personal 7-0 run to give Lincoln a 27-15 lead with 2:37 left in the first half. Washington coach Gene Miiller called a timeout to set up a full-court defense, and the pressure helped the Hatchets get within 29-26 by halftime. Lincoln got behind by as many as five early in the fourth, but after Hardiman's 3-pointer tied it at 50, Smith and Gillis keyed the Alices' finishing kick.
“That was the hardest 32 minutes of basketball we've played all year,” Lincoln coach Jordan Myers said. “One of our biggest attributes is that we play hard, and we competed with them and fought tooth and nail. They made us earn it. We went up 12 early, but we knew that wasn't going to last because they're a good team that was going to make some runs.
“Credit everyone that came in the game for us. They all played their roles well. That's a gritty win and a good win for us.”
Gillis netted two free throws with 4:20 showing to put Lincoln up for good, 52-50. After Niehaus hit just 1-of-2 free throws, Smith notched a three-point play that sparked a 7-2 run to give Lincoln a 59-53 lead with a minute to go.
Gillis missed a pair that would have taken the margin to eight, and Niehaus nearly made Lincoln pay. The Hatchets senior hit consecutive 3s with 21 and 11 seconds left to bring his team within 63-61, but Smith's free throws, the final two with five seconds left, put the margin out of reach.
Hardiman, who was a reserve for the Hatchets last year as a sophomore, pulled down 10 rebounds to give Lincoln a 25-20 edge against his former team.
“E and Julius played the best they have all season, and there may be a reason for that for Julius,” Myers said. “They're starting to grow up, and they're starting to do things that we know they can. E made some great moves, he was strong with the ball, finished in the paint, and he's shooting it better. We're moving in the right direction. We have a multitude of issues we need to fix, but when the kids are playing as hard as ours are, we can work with that.
“Niehaus had 34, but I thought we played him well. We made him earn everything. He rose up and hit some tough shots at the end, and that's why they're such a tough team to beat. But credit out guys. He scored 34, but we made him take a few more shots to get there.”
Smith hit two 3s and Gillis one in an 11-2 opening salvo from Lincoln. The Hatchets tallied the next six, but Noah Bushey's 3-pointer pushed the margin to 17-8 at the end of the period.
It was 29-26 in favor of Lincoln at halftime. Two Niehaus free throws capped off a 20-5 punch that spanned back to the first half, and Washington snagged a 35-32 lead. Lincoln regained the lead, 38-37, but fell back behind, 45-43, after three. Jones buried a 3 to start the fourth and give the Hatchets their biggest lead.
Niehaus had 23 in the second half and finished 14-of-17 from the free throw line.
Washington took the junior varsity game, 65-46. Zach Steffey scored 15 to lead the JV Alices (2-14).
Lincoln hosts Pike Central at 1 p.m. Saturday.
LINCOLN 65, WASHINGTON 61
Niehaus (f) 9 14-17 34, Jones (f) 7 0-0 18, Roach (c) 0 0-0 0, Gere (g) 0 0-0 0, Mann (g) 1 2-2 5, Riester 2 0-1 4. Totals: 19 16-20 61.
E. Bushey (f) 3 1-2 7, Hardiman (f) 2 2-2 7, Curry (g) 5 0-0 11, Gillis (g) 4 6-9 15, Smith (g) 4 7-8 17, Corrona 0 0-0 0, N. Bushey 2 0-0 6, Pfoff 0 0-0 0, Howder 1 0-0 2. Totals: 21 16-21 65.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Washington |8-18-19-16 — 61
Lincoln |17-12-14-22 — 65
3-pointers: Washington 7 (Jones 4, Niehaus 2, Mann), Lincoln 7 (Smith 2, N. Bushey 2, Curry, Gillis, Hardiman). Fouls: Washington 16, Lincoln 22. Fouled out: N. Bushey. JV: Washington 65-46.