By Jeremy Balan
Even after a dismal offensive first half against visiting De La Salle, the Lincoln boys basketball team had a glimmer of hope when it hit two consecutive baskets early in the third quarter to cut the Spartans’ lead to 28-15.
That hope was squashed quickly and soundly by the defending North Coast Section Division I champions, which went on a 10-0 run and never looked back in a 56-26 non-league win over the Mustangs on Tuesday.
Arizona-bound De La Salle senior shooting guard Elliot Pitts started the third-quarter run with a three-pointer from the left-hand corner, finished with a game-high 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the floor and was the only player on either team to score more than eight points.
“We came out a little careless and we had to get them going, then they refocused,” said De La Salle head coach Frank Allocco. “We’ll be really good when they start doing that on their own.”
Pitts’ smooth jump shot, along with several cutting layups, provided almost all of the offense for the Spartans (4-1), but the difference was ultimately their defense, which limited Lincoln (0-7) to its lowest point total since the 2005-06 season, when the Mustangs lost to De Anza of Richmond 83-25.
The Mustangs appeared to come out over-anxious, rushing shots early in the game, then became tentative in the second half, mostly keeping the ball on the perimeter and settling for jump shots.
“Their help defense is great,” said Lincoln head coach Matt Jackson. “If you get anything in the key, there are two or three guys who are 6-5, 6-6 and strong. It’s a different level of basketball. We won’t see a team as physical as that all year.”
Lincoln shot just 26 percent from the floor and 0-for-10 from three-point range, while the Spartans were efficient and surgical in half-court sets, and shot 49 percent from the field.
If not for a buzzer-beating runner by Lincoln reserve guard Josh Lau at the end of regulation, the Mustangs would have went without a field goal in the fourth quarter. De La Salle also outrebounded Lincoln 42-15.
“We try to shut everybody out,” Allocco said. “It’s always been our trademark. We haven’t allowed over 40 [points] per game in years. That’s our focus and in any game we play, that’s our goal — we want to come out and defend.”
While the Mustangs struggled mightily to score in every quarter, the best pure athlete on the floor may have been wearing a Lincoln jersey.
Less than a month after leading the football team to an Academic Athletic Association championship as a hard-hitting linebacker and tight end, Davion Telfor is starting to have an impact on the basketball court.
The relatively undersized (6-foot-1), big-bodied junior scored six points and is still an unpolished offensive player, but is the Mustangs’ most versatile asset. He made an immediate impression against the Spartans with two highlight-reel blocks in the first quarter and went on to lead Lincoln with three steals.
“He’s getting to the places he needs to get to and he’s still a little rusty from football, but he’s getting shots at the basket,” Jackson said of Telfor. “When he figures out the touch, how athletic he is and how most guys won’t be able to jump with him, the shots he gets in the key will be a lot easier. He’s our most complete, all-around player.”
While a AAA team playing the East Bay athletic powerhouse may seem out of the ordinary, the teams have now played for five straight seasons, dating back to former Lincoln head coach Michael Gragnani’s tenure. He was a friend of Allocco, and their meeting in 2010 (a 41-38 De La Salle win) was one of the last games Gragnani coached. He died of a heart attack two weeks later.
“We’ve kept it alive because we want to honor Mike and we want to do anything to keep Mike alive,” Allocco said. “Usually we play at Kezar [Pavilion], but to walk in here and see Mike’s picture [at the gym’s entrance] really makes me feel good. That’s why this tradition has gone on.”
De La Salle
Elliot Pitts – 21
Mac Hoffman – 8
Brian Rosselli – 7
Nikhil Peters – 5
Two players tied with 4 points
James Gurr – 7
Mitchell Lee – 6
Davion Telfor – 6
Seth Snoddy – 5
Josh Lau – 2