LINCOLN — A sturdy defensive effort and a knack for getting to the free-throw line helped Lincoln North Star beat Grand Island 47-41 Friday night in the Heartland Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals at Lincoln East.
The Gators (7-2) converted 20 of 26 opportunities from the free-throw line and limited the Islanders (6-3) to 37-percent shooting to advance to Saturday’s 7:15 p.m. championship game against Lincoln East. North Star also struggled shooting from the floor (11 of 31 for 35 percent), but outscored Grand Island 20-5 on foul shots.
“We’re shooting a very high percentage from the free-throw line and once we got into the bonus in the second and fourth quarters, we wanted to take the ball to the rack,” said North Star coach Tony Quattrocchi, whose team made 8 of 12 free-throw attempts in the in the final 4:47. “Once we got a couple of stops and made it a two-possession game down the stretch, we felt we just needed to get to the free-throw line and we did.”
Grand Island coach Jeremiah Slough said ending up on the wrong side of the free-throw ledger has been a key factor for the Islanders so far this season.
“In the games that we have lost, we’ve really lost the free-throw battle, so we have to figure out how to get stops without fouling,” Slough said. “We’re playing awfully hard, defensively, but it just seems like we’re committing fouls in crucial situations.”
LeBeck Warren led Grand Island, scoring a game-high 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the field. The 6-foot-3 senior guard made 9 of 10 two-point shots and scored 21 of his 25 points in the final three quarters.
“We have challenged LeBeck time and time again that in big games, we need him to put us on his back,” Slough said. “At times, he has struggled to do so, but tonight was exactly what we need from him.
“We’re not going to have very many nights where we can’t get our other players going. If we can get that type of performance out of LeBeck and get our other guys to come around, then we have a chance to be pretty special.”
Much Biel added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Islanders. However, only three Grand Island players reached the scoring column and GISH finished 2 of 14 from 3-point range.
“We were very, very focused in on what we wanted to do, defensively, and I think that proved to be the biggest difference in this game,” Quattrocchi said. “We really made it difficult on (Grand Island) just to score. We didn’t play very good defense (Thursday) night, but it’s funny how 24 hours can change that.”
Donovan Williams, who scored 43 points in North Star’s 82-78 overtime victory over Fremont in Thursday’s first round, was limited to 13 points on 2-of-9 shooting from the floor.
However, the Gators got 11 points from Brock Johnson, nine points from Alexander Goll and eight from Sam Juracek as the trio combined to make 8 of 13 field-goal attempts, including going 4 of 4 from beyond the arc.
Trailing 36-26 after three quarters, Grand Island opened the fourth with an 8-0 run, fueled by six points from Warren, and the Islanders cut their deficit to 36-34 on a Biel basket with 6:21 to play.
However, Williams answered with a 3-pointer — North Star’s only field goal in the final 11:10 — and the Gators were 6 of 8 on free throws in the final 37.1 seconds after the Islanders pulled to within 41-39 on Biel’s inside score with 2:32 left.
“It was just a classic case of where we had worked so hard to get back into the game and then, everything has to go perfectly at that point,” Slough said. “Williams banged in that big-time three about 45 seconds into a possession to put them back up five and I think that was disheartening for us. We seemed to have a hard time recovering.”
Grand Island will face Lincoln High (6-3) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the HAC Tournament third-place game at Lincoln East. The Class A No. 10-rated (Omaha World-Herald) Links lost to No. 2 Lincoln East 77-65 in the other semifinal.
“I still like where we’re at,” Sough said. “I think if you would’ve asked us before the season where we wanted to be, we’re right about where our goals and expectations where. We’ve got to continue to find ways to improve.
“In our three losses, we’ve averaged about 40 points per game, so we’ve got to continue to try and find ways to score in those crucial moments.”
Lincoln North Star.....14 14 8 11—47
Grand Island.............10 11 5 15—41
LNS: Donovan Williams 2-9 8-10 13, Sam Juracek 3-3 0-0 8, Alexander Goll 2-5 5-6 9, Brock Johnson 3-5 3-4 11, Dillon Brandt 1-6 3-4 5, Emmanuel Abdelkarim 0-0 1-2 1, Jared Lopez 0-3 0-0 0, Derek Ruhl 0-0 0-0 0, Luke Reimer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 11-31 20-26 47.
GI: LeBeck Warren 10-18 4-5 25, Casey Burnham 0-2 0-0 0, Much Biel 6-16 0-2 13, Will Nordhues 0-3 0-1 0, Andrew Bardales 0-0 0-0 0, Kermit Felicier-Alavarez 1-5 1-2 3, Them Koang 0-1 0-0 0, Noah Vahle 0-1 0-0 0, Brooks Douglass 0-0 0-0 0, Rashawn Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-46 5-10 41.
Lincoln Northeast girls 52, Grand Island 47
LINCOLN — A strong second-half defensive performance wasn’t quite enough for Grand Island on Friday in Heartland Athletic Conference Tournament play as Class A 10th-rated Lincoln Northeast held on for a 52-47 victory on its home court.
Trailing 41-26 at the intermission, the Islanders went on a 16-4 run in the first 9:18 of the second half. Lauren Hauser had two 3-pointers late in the third quarter, scored another basket early in the fourth and Sydney Wald’s reverse layup with 6:42 remaining cut Lincoln Northeast’s lead to 45-42.
But Wald’s field goal wound up being the last of the game for Grand Island (1-8), which was limited to three free throws the rest of the way. The Rockets outscored the Islanders 7-3 in the final 4:42, running a delay offense for most of the final four minutes.
Grand Island coach Alex Michel said the Islanders’ second-half performance was more about mindset than X’s and O’s.
“It was just a matter of watching the girls grow up,” Michel said. “We went from timid, youthful-looking players to mature players who started believing in themselves. It was good to see.
“We’re never happy with a loss, but we have so many things that we can build on from this.”
Katie Zuelow scored 12 points to lead Grand Island. Lauren Eihusen added 11 points, Hauser scored 10 and Wald finished with nine for the Islanders, who will play Lincoln North Star at 2 p.m. Saturday in the HAC Tournament seventh-place game at Northeast High School.
Kaysia Woods scored a game-high 16 points and Azaiya Trainor had 13 points for Northeast (5-3). Woods and Trainor scored 22 of their 29 combined points in the first half.
“We made the determination that we weren’t going to allow a couple of their top players to shoot and we were willing to live with a few of their other girls trying to beat us,” Michel said. “In the second half, Northeast started getting a little more timid, their shots weren’t falling and we rebounded really well.”
Lincoln Northeast (5-3).....16 25 4 7—52
Grand Island (1-8)............10 16 12 9—47
LNE: Jenna Wendelin 8, Alieyya Jones 7, Ana Sturgis 1, Joliet Rinaker 2, Kaysia Woods 16, Bri Shadegg 2, Azaiya Trainor 13, Kambree Rhodes 3.
GI: Lauren Eihusen 11, Katie Zuelow 12, Kamryn Kier 3, Sydney Wald 9, Lauren Hauser 10, Alexa Blasé 2.