Emmett Linton III claimed that game basketball. It’s his now. No one was unclutching that from his steel grip.
“Yeah, I’m keeping this,” he said.
It’s to remind him of how much fun he had playing for this No. 2-ranked Lincoln High School boys basketball team alongside five other seniors.
And he got to end his four-year varsity career with a third-place trophy in the 3A state boys basketball championship with a come-from-behind 64-59 win over No. 9 Eastside Catholic on Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.
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“My four years at Lincoln are definitely unforgettable,” said Linton, who hit a dagger 3-pointer with 1:24 to go and finished with 13 points. “I’m never going to forget the memories I shared with my brothers. I’m an Abe for life.”
It wasn’t the dream end-scenario they envisioned. That would have been holding on to that lead against Rainier Beach in Friday night’s semifinals and playing for Lincoln’s first state championship since 2002.
But they posed for a team photo after the final horn sounded, Willie Thomas III holding coach Aubrey Shelon’s almost four-year-old daughter, Claire. They were in the locker room hooting and hollering afterward about getting out to play Fortnite, a video game, together.
To end with a come-from-behind, hard-fought win, a trophy and a chance to play as long as any basketball team in the state in the Tacoma Dome – that was big.
“I tell you what, that was very satisfying on so many levels,” Lincoln coach Aubrey Shelton said. “To finish it right for the seniors and to battle the entire game against a very good team and persevere and for all our seniors to make plays – that was big time.”
Le’Zjon Bonds scored 17 points and Thomas had 16 in Lincoln’s first third-place finish since 2013, coming a year after they lost to Nathan Hale in the semifinals – their first loss all season – and then lost to West Seattle in the third-place game.
Friday’s loss to Rainier Beach was Lincoln’s second of the season, though it will take the back-to-back undefeated regular season and its run of six consecutive years with at least a share of the league title.
Shelton was shaking his head as he tried to figure out what to say about his seniors.
“They really personified team to me,” Shelton said. “They play team defense, they play team offense, they share the ball, there’s no one person who is going to be the superstar and dominate everything. They all stand out in different moments, they all have different things they do. It’s just a great, great team. And they absolutely love each other.”
But Lincoln trailed for just about all of this game in a rematch of its regional round win over Eastside Catholic, led by Brock Mackenzie’s 18 points. And it trailed by double digits on multiple occasions, scoring just 11 points in the first quarter after having 23 against Rainier Beach on Friday.
Then Lincoln outscored Eastside Catholic, 20-10, in the fourth quarter.
“Coach talked to us at halftime and told us just to have fun,” Linton said. “We were playing so tense and he could tell we just wanted to win that one so bad. So we came out and tried to relax and have fun together and get the job done.”
Lincoln trailed by 11 points early in the third quarter, but took its first lead on Linton’s 3-pointer off an inbounds pass with 1:24 to play.
Anthony Braggs Jr. secured the game-sealing rebound off Mackenzie’s missed shot with 18.4 seconds to play and Lincoln leading 62-59. Braggs, Thomas, Linton and Bonds all started on last year’s team.
Bonds was intentionally fouled and made one of two free throws to give Lincoln a two-possession lead.
“This group of brothers I’ll never forget,” Linton said. We play together and we all love each other. It’s bigger than basketball. You can feel the brotherhood out there. We play AAU together, we spend time at school together, we do team bonding things all the time. We have a brotherhood and it shows on the court.”
And one of those seniors was with crutches on the end of the bench, captain Jakhai Dillingham, tore his ACL and MCL on Lincoln’s senior night.
His teammates surrounded him after Lincoln posed for the team photo afterward and Linton did give up his clutches on that game ball, to give it to Dillingham so he could shoot a few 3-pointers.
But Linton quickly grabbed the ball back.
“If Jakhai didn’t get hurt we’d be playing in the championship game right now,” Shelton said. “That was a tough blow. But we bounced back even without him.
“These guys are going to be very, very hard to replace. They accept their roles and they are tough and hard-nosed and they never give up. I can’t say enough. I love those guys. They play really hard and they ended on the right note, that’s for sure.”
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No. 9 Eastside Catholic; 17;16; 16; 10; —; 59
No. 2 Lincoln; 11; 15;18;20;—; 64
Eastside Catholic: Brock Mackenzie 18, Nolan Hickman 6, Jaylahn Tuimoloau 10, Griffin Barker 9, Orlando Ashford 9, Syon Blackmon, Chika Nduka 6.
Lincoln: Emmett Linton III 13, Le’Zjon Bonds 17, Willie Thomas III 16, Anthony Braggs Jr. 3, Julien Simon 9, Daemon Dillingham 4, Earnest Yearby 2.