LINCOLN — As the season evolved from a 1-4 start to a berth at state, confidence is high for Lincoln North Star.
That’s why facing Omaha Creighton Prep in Thursday’s first round — after losing to the defending state champs in the regular season — was viewed as a challenge, not an inevitable conclusion.
Challenge accepted and accomplished. The No. 7 Navigators took the lead from No. 3 Prep early in the second quarter and never gave it back.
That tenacity, especially on defense, helped North Star earn a 56-43 win and a date against Omaha South in Friday’s 7 p.m. semifinal at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“Our goal was to get into the state tournament, then once we got here, we felt we had a good chance to advance,” North Star coach Tony Quattrocchi said. “We’ve got good players, and we’ve got more than one. Hey, we’re here, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow night.”
Nebraska commit Donovan Williams, North Star’s leader on and off the court, spoke about that confidence and the mindset it gives the Navigators.
“There’s been no ‘ifs’ in the locker room,” Williams said. “It’s always been about ‘when.’ So, ‘When we win, we’re going to do this, we’re going to be here.’ We’re confident. Our confidence is through the wall right now.”
Williams led all players with 20 points. Kwat Abdelkarim added 13 and Josiah Allick finished with 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
That was the same trio that led the Gators in their 77-71, double-overtime loss to Prep during the regular season. Williams scored 36 that night, Abdelkarim had 22 and Allick was a force on the boards. The difference Thursday? North Star’s defense.
“I actually did see it coming,” Quattrocchi said. “Our kids knew if they locked in and played defense the way they did on their shooters. We limited their 3-point shooting, and that was the biggest key defensively for us.
“We kept making them grind and work for anything they got. I give a lot of credit to the defense our kids played.”
After North Star ended the first quarter ahead 13-11, Prep made it 15-15 early in the second before Williams gave North Star the lead for good with a pair of 3-pointers.
Both of Williams’ 3s were in the 23- to 25-foot range.
“I shoot about 400, 500 shots like that a day,” Williams said. “Just getting repetitions, trusting myself and my teammates having a lot of trust in me. I just do what I have to do.
“Me shooting like that kind of put them in a bad position because they had to extend their defense a lot, which opened up lanes for players like Kwat and Owen Baker who stepped in and hit a couple of 3s. It was just great to see that they were falling tonight.”
Quattrocchi was comfortable with the range Williams displayed.
“He was able to get the ball into the paint and get free throws, but he also hit some really big 3s for us,” Quattrocchi said. “He didn’t take long 3s, which maybe hurt our game plan. How he played was how we expected him to play.”
Lincoln North Star (17-8)...............13 16 12 15—56
Omaha Creighton Prep (22-5)........11 10 10 12—43
LNS: Kwat Abdelkarim 13, Donovan Williams 20, Owen Baker 6, Josiah Allick 11, Julian Best 6.
OCP: Akol Arop 13, Robert Peters 10, Thomas Faber 9, Spencer Schomers 5, Maijhe Wiley 2, Chris Wolfe 2, Anthony Rollins 2.
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