The Charleston Coliseum has historically had a way of turning extraordinary shooters into subpar ones.
On Wednesday, those spacious confines — along with a nice defensive game plan from veteran Lincoln coach Rob Hawkins — were enough to finally answer the conundrum that Nitro’s Baylee Goins has presented all postseason long.
Goins entered the state tournament averaging 42.7 points over her last three contests, but was held to 26 points on 10-of-34 shooting. Despite a nice game from Wildcats point guard Haley Carroll, the Cougars were able to hold off Nitro 63-55 for a Class AA girls state tournament quarterfinal win in the day’s nightcap.
With the victory, fourth-seeded Lincoln set up a date with No. 1 North Marion in a semifinal at 1:30 p.m. Friday.
Lincoln used a 1-3-1 zone with junior Victoria Sturm at the top also manning Goins around the perimeter. Hawkins said the origin of the defense came from a summer league game a year ago, one in which Goins had her way with his defense.
“After a couple of minutes I figured out, ‘This girl is pretty good,’” Hawkins said. “I said let’s go 1-3-1, Victoria is at the top, keep her from penetrating and if she gives the ball up, don’t let her catch it back.
“We went to a diamond-and-1 at one point, but basically that was the game plan and it worked.”
The Cougars packed the lane as well, cutting down driving opportunities and forcing the Wildcats to settle for outside jumpers. All told, Lincoln outscored Nitro 40-10 in the paint.
Beyond that, Lincoln also did a great job of getting back in transition where Goins is also dangerous, outscoring the Wildcats 18-2 on fast breaks.
“That was the last thing on my keys to success before the game — you have to stop the ball in transition and we did a great job of getting back,” Hawkins said.
For Goins and the Wildcats, as the misses piled up, the basket seemed to shrink.
“It was just one of those nights,” Goins said. “My shots felt good, they just weren’t falling.”
Still, Nitro hung around and threatened throughout the second half thanks in large part to Carroll, who finished with 19 points and hit five big 3-pointers to help make up some of the deficit.
After trailing by eight points at halftime, Nitro cut Lincoln’s lead to three or less four times in the third quarter and down to one in the fourth quarter at the 5:42 mark. But after back-to-back buckets from Carroll and Goins made the score 45-44, Lincoln (19-6) scored the next nine points to push the lead back out and Nitro would get no closer than five the rest of the way.
It was a microcosm of the whole second half as Nitro could never get over the hump and the Cougars couldn’t’ seem to put the Wildcats (19-8) away.
Twice in the postseason — on the road in a sectional semifinal at Wayne and in a regional co-final at Lincoln County — the Wildcats found themselves down double figures only to come back and win in nail-biting fashion.
But this time it was not to be as Nitro could never settle into an offensive flow or come up with a big stop when it found itself knocking on the door.
“We just didn’t match them,” Nitro coach Pat Jones said. “I don’t care who you are, you’re not beating anyone shooting [19 for 71].
“We played hard tonight. At the beginning of the season, a lot of people doubted us. I’m not sure a lot of schools or our community thought we’d be where we are today.”
While Sturm was leading the charge defensively, it was just the tip of the iceberg on an outstanding game in which she also contributed 26 points. Allison Rockwell chipped in with a double-double, going for 17 points and 13 rebounds.
While Nitro struggled to find the range, Lincoln didn’t, shooting 48.9 percent for the game (23 of 47) and winning despite 20 turnovers and taking 24 fewer shots from the floor.
Olivia Collier and Danielle Ward each had 10 rebounds for Nitro. Brynne Williams added 13 points and eight rebounds for Lincoln.