SHINNSTON, W.Va. — Friday’s performance at Lincoln won’t go down as one of Robert C. Byrd’s better performances of this season.
The Eagles did, however, play their best basketball of the night when it mattered most. After Lincoln tied the game at 30 late in the third quarter, RCB used a 12-0 run over the next seven minutes to gain separation and claim its 16th consecutive win, 46-36.
“We took really good care of the ball and got it to the places we needed to get it to,” Eagles’ head coach Bill Bennett said. “We took the right kind of shots down the stretch and the last quarter we did a really good job taking things away from them.”
After RCB (16-2) got consecutive dunks from Bryson Lucas in the third quarter, the latter of which was a three-point play, the Cougars (13-7) responded with a pair of three-pointers from Zach Snider to pull even at 30.
The Eagles then seized control and took a four-point lead into the fourth following a layup from Jeremiah King and two free throws from Gavin Kennedy.
Lucas accounted for the first two field goals of the final period to double the Eagles’ lead with 6:16 remaining. Layups from King and Lucas a short time later stretched the advantage to 12, before Snider made two free throws with 2:14 left to end Lincoln’s drought.
“I don’t know if we got a little tired in the fourth quarter, but you have to give them some credit,” Cougars’ head coach Jordan Toth said. “They’re very good defensively and we had a hard time getting shots. We had a couple costly turnovers in the fourth that helped stretch their lead and we gave up a couple offensive rebounds. It was a combination of that and not being able to make any shots in the fourth that sealed the deal for them.”
Two weeks after being held to 18 points in a lopsided loss against the Eagles, the Cougars made 5-of-6 field goals in the opening quarter to hold a 13-12 lead.
RCB started the second quarter on a 6-0 surge capped by Khori Miles’ dunk, but Lincoln got back to within 20-19 following the first of two three-pointers from Brayden White. However, Lucas connected from behind the arc with time winding down in the opening half to send the Eagles into the locker room with a four-point lead.
Snider scored the first five points of the second half as the Eagles struggled to crack Lincoln’s zone defense and fell behind by one.
But RCB went back in front on a King layup before Lucas followed with the pair of highlight-worthy dunks.
The Eagles’ defense then took its toll on Lincoln, which had 15 of its 25 turnovers in the second half.
“They’re a premier defensive team,” Toth said of the Eagles. “Their transition is good as is, but if you turn it over then it becomes really, really good because they’re shooting a layup or dunking it.”
Lucas led all players with 19 points and eight rebounds. He made 9-of-16 field goals and King shot 4-of-6 in a 10-point performance. The remainder of the Eagles combined to make only 6-of-21 shots, though Kennedy was also in double figures with 11 points.
In addition to forcing the 25 turnovers, RCB committed only 10, which helped lead to 17 more field goal attempts (43-26) than the Cougars.
“It’s what makes our team what it is. Night in and night out we’re kind of used to that,” Bennett said.
Snider’s 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting led Lincoln, which got eight rebounds from Payton Hawkins in defeat.