Nitro got comfortable shooting 3-pointers in the first half Friday night and got out to a comfortable lead. Maybe too comfortable.
Despite deficits as large as 22 points, Lincoln County never stopped playing and clawed back to make things interesting down the stretch, but the Wildcats eventually held on for a 55-45 victory at Nitro High School.
Kolton Painter sank 22 points and Trevor Lowe 14 for Nitro (5-13), which saw its big first-half advantage whittled back to seven points with just over two minutes remaining.
The Wildcats earned that large lead by making 8 of 12 from 3-point distance in the first half, getting long balls from four different players, and was up 38-18 at the break.
“We shot the ball really well in the first half,’’ said Nitro coach Austin Lowe, “probably the best we’ve shot all year. We were fluid in our offense and got what we wanted. We worked it inside-out and got good looks.
“In the second half, we got a little lackadaisical. We were up 20 and I think we were a little fatigued. Give credit to Lincoln County; they played hard.’’
The Panthers (12-7) made use of a rash of second-half mistakes for Nitro, which committed 11 of its 16 turnovers after the break. Behind an inspiring effort from John Blankenship (23 points, 10 rebounds, four steals), Lincoln County shaved its deficit back to 50-43 and had two possessions after that with a chance to cut into the lead even more, but missed good shots.
“If we could have made just one more play,’’ said Panthers coach Rodney Plumley. “We had it down to seven, and if we could have gotten it to five or four and just continued that momentum, it would have put a lot more pressure on them.
“Offensively, they’ve got some scorers and everybody was knocking them down in the first half. At halftime, we told our kids they’ve got to cool off a little bit, but we’ve got to help make them do that.’’
Nitro did cool off from the perimeter in the second half, going 2 of 8 on 3-pointers, and made only five total field goals in the second half. It also went 5 of 9 at the foul line, giving the Panthers more opportunities to get closer.
“We’ve been preaching inside-out [on offense], and we’ve been getting better at it,’’ Austin Lowe said, “but we were in a rhythm tonight and they saw the ball go through the basket a couple times and we probably shot a few more than we usually do.’’
No one besides Blankenship scored more than seven points for Lincoln County, but the Panthers led 30-24 off the boards with Will Carpenter grabbing eight rebounds. They played their fifth game without point guard Jayse Tully, who was leading the team in scoring before he was lost for the season with a knee injury.
“We had trouble scoring for a couple games after we lost him,’’ Plumley said, “but we didn’t have any trouble executing. Tonight, we did. We looked a little herky-jerky with our ball-handling and our movement, and we haven’t seen that before. After the first six or seven minutes, we tried a lot of things.’’
Nitro has frittered away several first-half leads this season, as it has been ahead at halftime now in 13 of its 18 games. Austin Lowe was glad another lead didn’t go down the drain on Friday.
“We’ve got to get a little momentum going down the stretch,’’ he said. “It’s a good win. They were 12-6 and I don’t care who they’ve played, they’ve won 12 games.’’
Trevor Lowe and Josh Barton each landed six rebounds for Nitro. In an oddity, Panthers guard Isaiah Koontz fouled out with 3:39 left in the game and, at that point, he had all five of his team’s fouls for the entire game.