Historically these kinds of tense inner-city scores get started at preseason hoop-go-rounds, and finish up in the final weeks of Narrows League play.
But that was back when it was one big division. Now things are different.
Bellarmine Prep leads the Narrows 4A, and Lincoln sits atop Narrows 3A – each staring down the other from different perches.
The two finally hit the hardwood Friday night in a league crossover game with both programs undefeated against other city opponents this season.
The Lions hit their big shot in the final 35 seconds and the Abes didn’t, leading to host Bellarmine Prep’s 45-41 victory over top-ranked 3A Lincoln in packed Names Gymnasium.
Senior standouts Lucas Meikle (game-high 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting) and
Sefo Liufau (13 points, 11 rebounds) carried the Lions. But in the fourth quarter, it was a junior off the bench who stole the show.
Mar’kese Jackson scored eight points, with six coming in the fourth quarter – all on determined drives into the lane. His last one, right up the middle past two Lincoln defenders, gave the Lions a 43-41 lead with 32 seconds remaining.
“He’s a great kid, and our sixth man and leader off the bench,” Bellarmine Prep coach Bernie Salazar said. “And when he has that opportunity, he has the green light.”
Jackson, a 6-foot-3 guard, ended up being the much-needed – and much-appreciated – X-factor for the Lions.
“I am just a Bellarmine guy – I come off the bench, but I got the shot and I had a chance and I knocked it down,” he said with a big grin. “The play kind of broke down, but Sefo (Liufau) came through and set a nice screen, and I had a wide-open lay-in.”
The Abes (14-2) called timeout with 13.6 seconds remaining – and got the basketball to Colorado-bound forward Tre’Shaun Fletcher on the perimeter. He took a couple of dribbles and got off a 14-foot jumper over Liufau from just left of the key. It hit the front of the rim and fell off.
“We just wanted (Fletcher) to catch it in the high post and go to work,” Abes coach Aubrey Shelton said. “He got a decent look.”
Liufau eventually secured the rebound, was fouled and knocked down two free throws with 0.5 seconds to go for the Lions (9-6).
Even with its rough stretches, the game was competitive throughout. The biggest lead either team held was four points.
Part of that was by the Lions’ design. Their game plan was to play slower and make it a possession-by-possession grinder.
“That is our style now,” Salazar said.
It was the first time all season both Lincoln standouts – Fletcher and guard Ahmaad Rorie (season-low eight points) – struggled offensively. Fletcher was held to 5-of-16 shooting, while Rorie’s 3-for-13 accuracy was a tribute to the Lions’style.
Overall, the Abes’ 12-for-42 shooting from the floor cost them their nine-game winning streak.
Shelton said the team’s season had been trending toward a performance like the one Friday night.
“We have been coasting for a long time now. We’ve been having bad practices, and our leadership has been poor, from the coaches and players. We haven’t had consistent focus,” Shelton said. “This was coming. I did not know if it would come tonight. I’d rather it be tonight than Wednesday when it really matters (playing Foss for the Narrows 3A title).”