Panthers roar past Riverside to reach quarterfinals

Lincoln Prep’s Brandon Heard led the Panthers with 20 points in Tuesday’s Division IV Boys Select School  playoff win over Riverside. (Photo by T. Scott Boatright)


By T. Scott Boatright


JONESBORO – It took Lincoln Preparatory School a few minutes to really start rolling in Division IV action of the Boys Select School basketball playoffs Tuesday night in the Jonesboro-Hodge High School gym.

But a second-quarter surge combined with being able to regain their composure late led to the second-seeded Panthers roaring to a 78-60 win over 18th-ranked Riverside in a second-round showdown.

While the game ball didn’t always bounce the way he would have liked, Lincoln Prep coach Antonio Hudson said he was pleased with the outcome and his team’s intensity.

“Anytime you get a win in the playoffs it means one thing – that you get to play again,” Hudson said. “So whether it’s good, bad or ugly, a win is always better than a loss, so we’ll take it.”

Lincoln Prep raced out of the gates, with Brandon sinking a layup 16 seconds into the contest and Bralyn Mayfield followed up with a short jumper and offensive putback to build an early 6-0 advantage that forced Riverside to call a timeout on 1:45 into the game to slow things down.

The Rebels slowly battled back into it, cutting the Panthers’ advantage to two points twice before Lincoln Prep went on a 7-0 run to close out the opening stanza on top 22-14.

And Lincoln Prep kept up its strong play in the second quarter, building as much as an 18-point lead with 1:30 remaining in the first half on a Heard jumper. 

But Riverside senior Terrell Hillard nailed a pair of 3-pointers in the final 1:12 of the first half to cut the Panthers’ lead to 39-27 at halftime.

Hillard led all scorers on the night with 26 points while connecting on five 3-pointers overall.

“One thing we’ve talked about all year is that they can’t stop executing,” Hudson said. “That solid execution needs to be there every second from start to finish. Some people think execution is only on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s defense as well. 

“Every open look isn’t always the best look. You have to be able to finish a game when you get a chance. We should have pushed that lead from 20 to 25-30 points and gone on and finished it. But that team came and they played hard. They have the same kind of (winning) tradition as we do as well. And they nearly fought right back into it.”

The Panthers picked up the pace in the third quarter, building as much as a 20-point lead at 58-38 with 2:06 left in the stanza on a  layup by sophomore Amarjae Young.

But the Rebels closed out the period in strong fashion with a 6-2 run that left Lincoln Prep on top 60-44 heading into the final eight minutes of play.

The Panthers maintained a 14-point advantage at the 3:16 mark of the fourth quarter when Mayfield was hit with a technical foul that fouled him out of the game.

Lincoln Prep led 69-55 with 2:24 after Steven Burks sank a pair of free throws.

Burks was hit with a technical foul after the second free throw, and despite missing their free throws, Gelsey shortly after popped another 3-pointer that cut Lincoln Prep’s lead to 69-58 with 1:45 left on the clock.

“We play with energy and we play with passion, and I like that,” Hudson said. “But we’ve got to be able to control that passion. We’ve just got to. In close games that kind of thing can cost you and it could have cost us tonight. 

“I want to see that passion — to a point. I don’t want them to lose it. I just want them to continue with that energy and play hard. But we’ve got to do it with discipline. There were a bunch of times out there tonight where we looked undisciplined. We let things we can’t control get to us.”

But the Panthers closed out the quarter on an 8-2 run to move on to the quarterfinals round of postseason play.

Heard was Lincoln Prep’s leading scorer with 20 points on the night while adding four rebounds, three steals and three assists.

“He works – that kid works,” Hudson said of Heard. “He comes to practice ready to go hard. He takes care of his schoolwork. He does the extra little things, and that’s always a good thing and part of what makes him so good.

“I told him before the game started that I was going to need him and to not let himself get emotionally carried away or whatever. I told him no matter what happened, he just had to keep working – to keep trusting the process.”

Mayfield totaled 15 points, along with eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots  for the Panthers while Mack (who double-doubled by pulling down 12 rebounds) and Burks added 14 points each for Lincoln Prep (22-4), which now moves on to face seventh-seeded Southern Lab – a 70-38 winner over 10th-seeded Vermilion Catholic on Monday — in a 6 p.m. contest set for Thursday at the Jonesboro-Hodge HS Gym.

That game will be played on only a two-day turnaround for both teams because Southern Lab’s girls are playing in the Girls Division V Select School Championship Game on Friday.

“We went down Monday and watched them, and they’re more athletic in person than they looked on film,” Hudson said of the Kittens. “But I do think we match up pretty well. I still think that if we play the way we play, we’ll be good. We’ll be OK.

“Our strength is in the paint even though we don’t always believe that all the time. But our strength is inside the paint and if we can continue to get inside the paint and get Bralyn going and get Kobe Mack going, everything else will fall into place.”