Lincoln High School basketball coach Aubrey Shelton only wanted to see this team playing for a state championship. Just one.
He thought of his own title he won as a player at Lincoln in 2001. And the teams from the past 10 years that he’s been the Abes’ coach and the teams he’s faced.
“This is probably the best Tacoma team to never win a title,” Shelton said. “Two years in a row, back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and semifinals. I’ll go with my guys any day. And I really thought we were going to get it done.”
But after No. 2 Lincoln had led for most of the game, No. 4 Rainier Beach broke through late and pulled away for a 73-67 victory in the 3A state semifinals Friday in the Tacoma Dome.
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It comes one year after losing to another Metro League team, Nathan Hale, in the semis.
Only instead of being beat by projected NBA lottery pick Michael Porter Jr., this time it was USC-bound Kevin Porter Jr. and a familiar face – Lincoln’s former standout point guard Trevante Anderson.
Last year Anderson was the best player in the Pierce County League and wearing a black and gold Lincoln jersey. On Friday he played like the best player in the Tacoma Dome, only in a white, royal blue and orange Beach jersey, scoring a game-high 27 points and hitting all four of his 3-pointers in the first quarter.
“Oh my gosh. You know what? I tell you what. You can’t find a better player in the state tonight,” Rainier Beach coach Mike Bethea said. “I don’t care what anybody says. That was the best I’ve seen him play.”
The first player he met in line for the postgame handshake was Lincoln’s 6-foot-6 Willie Thomas. They hugged. And he shared hug with Lincoln assistant Andy Nelson after being introduced in Beach’s starting lineup, one season after scoring a team-high 20 in that loss to Nathan Hale.
“At the end of the day, those are all still my brothers,” Anderson said. “There were a little jitters coming into the game, but at the end of the day you got to go win and compete and that’s what it’s all about.”
Beach certainly wasn’t winning this game without him.
Especially with how hot Lincoln was to start this game. The Abes scored 23 points in the first quarter and had a 40-34 lead at halftime while making 60 percent of their shots and going 5-for-6 from the 3-point line.
But Beach kept pace because of Anderson, who scored 20 of his 27 points that first half, coming about six months after he transferred to Beach. Shelton had accused Rainier Beach graduate and current Minnesota Timberwolves player Jamal Crawford of recruiting Anderson to the Seattle school, which led to a terse exchange with former Curtis star and current Lakers point guard Isaiah Thomas.
“Tre and I sat down and talked before the game and I told him that this can’t be personal,” Bethea said. “This isn’t about you and Lincoln. It’s about what’s going to get us to the championship. And he bought in.”
But Lincoln never let up its lead – at one point leading by nine – until 3:26 was remaining in the game. Emmett Linton III scored 22 points for the Abes, with Willie Thomas III and Anthony Braggs Jr. each scoring 11.
Lincoln had a 58-53 advantage after Thomas’ bucket inside and a pair of Linton free throws. But then Rainier Beach’s Kenny Curtis made 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.
Rainier Beach made 10 3-pointers in the game.
“Our plan was to take away the 3s,” Shelton said. “And we didn’t when it mattered. Kenny hit those big ones.”
And Lincoln didn’t take advantage when Kevin Porter Jr., the coach’s association’s Mr. Basketball selection as the best player in the state this year who scored 20 points in this one, picked up his fourth foul with five minutes left in the third quarter. Instead, Lincoln turned it over on four consecutive possessions.
The Abes struggled against Beach’s halfcourt extended 3-2 zone and Beach used an 11-2 run in the fourth quarter to pull ahead.
And all that happened with Lincoln guard Le’Zjon Bonds on the bench with four fouls. He fouled out and so did fellow starters Julien Simon and Anthony Braggs Jr.
“We had great looks and good action in there when those guys were in there,” Shelton said. “But we struggled when they got in foul trouble. That’s on me as a coach, though. We should have been better prepared and have better plays for that zone. That’s on me.”
Anderson put the game away by making 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch. In Beach’s wins over Wilson and Lincoln the past two games, Anderson has made 25 of 27 free throws. He scored 28 in Thursday’s quarterfinal win over the Rams.
“Win, win, win, that’s all I was thinking,” Anderson said. “Just make sure we get this win.”
Now Rainier Beach will play No. 1 Garfield for the 3A state title at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.
Lincoln heads to a third-place game against No. 9 Eastside Catholic, which it beat in the regional round, at 11:15 a.m. Saturday.
“Our guys played as hard as they could. I can’t fault them for their effort whatsoever,” Shelton said. “Hopefully people watching the game see us and go, ‘This is a team.’ We’re a team. We play team ball and we play together and we care and we’re energetic and we get after it. We’re not individuals. We don’t care about individual stats. We care about each other.”
Shelton was asked what he’d tell his team in the locker room after that, especially his four senior starters who were also starters on last year’s team.
“We got a game tomorrow,” Shelton said. “We got to get ready.”
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No. 2 Lincoln
No. 4 Rainier Beach
Lincoln: Emmett Linton III 22, Le’Zjon Bonds 6, Willie Thomas III 11, Anthony Braggs Jr. 11, Julien Simon 7, Daemon Dillingham 3, Kashaud Babbs 5, Mykel Campbell 2
Rainier Beach: Tre Anderson 27, Kevin Porter Jr. 20, Stevie Smith 4, Michah Monroe 7, Kenny Curtis 15 .