The Academic Athletic Association showdown Tuesday night between seasoned Lincoln High School and youthful Mission High School was a tale of two halves.
Lincoln clinched at least a share of the Academic Athletic Association championship, dominating the first half and building a 20-point halftime lead, but the Mustangs watched that lead dwindle to four before prevailing and holding off Mission 72-65.
Lincoln (20-8, 13-0) shot 72.5 percent from the floor as four players scored in double figures, led by Kylan Jones' 18 points. The Mustangs are now a victory away from becoming the first team in the AAA since 2003 to complete a regular season unblemished.
“We knew Mission was going to come after us,” Lincoln coach Matt Jackson said. “We made a lot of mental mistakes, but we did enough in the beginning [of the game], built a big cushion, and [Mission] had to fight and try to dig out of that hole.”
In the second half, Mission — a team with nine underclassmen on its 13-man roster — shook off its dreadful start thanks in part to their ability to score fast off a chaotic full-court pressure defense.
The Bears forced the Mustangs into 12 turnovers in the third quarter, while going on an 11-0 spurt, buoyed by back-to-back 3-pointers from sophomore guard Frank Hall. And with three minutes left in the frame, junior Joji Kurotani's 3-pointer brought Mission to within seven at 44-37.
A Mission layup made the score 66-62, but that's the closest the Bears (14-12, 11-1) would get. Mission cost itself a chance to go undefeated in the AAA by falling behind 23-6 after first quarter.
The Bears shot only 24 percent from the field in the first half. Hall led Mission with 16 points in the game, and senior Ronald Murillo finished with 13 points for the Bears.
“It was really an opportunity for a young team to lay down, but we fought through it and that's all I can ask for,” Mission coach Arnold Zelaya said. “Sometimes young teams don't really believe in the [system], and they don't understand that's just the way that we play, but once we got into a groove, they started feeling it and made a game of it.”
Lincoln closes out regular season action on Friday in a road game against O'Connell, while Mission hosts Jordan on Friday.