ABRAHAM LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL — Stepping across the half-court line, Ben Knight drew a double team from a pair of Lincoln High School Mustangs with less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Instead of kicking the ball out to the perimeter, Knight found a crease to split the defenders and rocket a one-handed, no-look pass to fellow Mission Bear Matt Cohn for an easy layup.
For most of the game on Friday night, Mission relied on Knight’s scoring — as they have for the majority of the season — but in the late stages, it would be Knight’s ability to facilitate that led the Bears to a 79-60 win over Lincoln.
“[Knight] really doesn’t care about about how many points he scores. He is a facilitator,” said Bears head coach Arnold Zelaya. “He was up for tonight and he looked engaged and he wanted to get everyone involved.”
Coming off an 87-41 blasting of KIPP SF Prep School on Wednesday, Mission came into Lincoln with the second-best record in the Academic Athletic Association behind only the Mustangs.
To open the first quarter, the Bears put the ball in Knight’s hands as the majority of their offense ran through the senior guard. Within the first eight minutes, Knight had scored 13 points. He would finish with 25 points and nine assists.
“I knew I was going to be the main focus for their defense tonight,” Knight said. “I just put my head down and drove. I was just doing what the coaches asked of me.”
With 28 points in the opening period, Mission opened up a 17-point lead after holding Lincoln to just 11. They would also force 10 turnovers, which they converted into six points.
“The emphasis has been on defense all season,” Zelaya said. “We knew they liked to go and it plays to our tempo, which we like. But defensively we were locked in.”
Mission held Lincoln to only 12 more points in the second quarter, although their fouls stacked up, sending the Mustangs to the free throw line frequently over the last two-and-a-half minutes of the half.
Coming out of halftime, the Bears looked to continue with their success with Knight controlling the pace and direction of their offense. Lincoln, however, adjusted, throwing two players at Knight as far up as the half-court line.
Rather than force the issue by taking contested shots, Knight chose to look for his teammates, who often sat open in on the three point line like senior guard Jaraughn Torno.
“I know I had to be ready,” Torno said. “When I have people that can penetrate, it makes my job easier because it forces my man to help out. That just leaves me wide open.”
Torno, who only had three points in the first half, would wind up sinking three 3-pointers in the second half on his way to 15 points. All three triples came off of assists from Knight.
In the final period, the Mustangs began to make their push as 3-pointers of their own began to fall. Several of their looks came from a Mission defense that was out of sorts, contrary to the stellar effort seen in the first half.
“We had some lapses there in the second half,” Zelaya said. “It’s tough to play sometimes when you’re up by 20.”
Lincoln would close the deficit to as little as 13 with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but with the ball in his hands once more, Knight was able to make one more play for his Bears.
Taking the double team at half court, Knight split his defenders to find a wide open Cohn sitting beneath the rim with a one-handed, no-look pass straight into Cohn’s chest.
“I was already expecting it,” Cohn said. “I know how he plays. I told my defender to go up and he did. So I was wide open and [Knight] found me.”
The win was Mission’s 44th consecutive win over AAA opponents (including San Francisco Section playoffs), a streak that stretches back to February of 2016.
“It means consistency over a good span of time and I’m proud of that,” Zelaya said. “But we expect to win every game. Really, we’re pushing for our fifth-straight [league] championship.”