THORNBURY >> There’s never a dull moment when the nations two oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities get together on the basketball court. There’s always a packed, rowdy crowd and the play on the court tends to live up to the hype.
Saturday night was no exception, with the game going down to the wire and Lincoln edging Cheyney, 74-72.
“It’s not really a huge game for me,” said Lincoln coach John Hill. “It’s not a conference game, so it doesn’t factor into where we finish. So I take it like any other game on our tough schedule. But I know it’s a big rivalry for the kids, so it’s nice to see them get a win.”
Both teams got off to sluggish starts on the season, though Lincoln (5-4) had entered the game riding a three-game winning streak, shrugging off an 0-3 start to pull themselves back to .500. Cheyney (1-6) came in with just one win against five defeats.
The first half was tight, with both teams seeking out the hot hand. For much of the first half, it was Cheyney, on the strength of Kevin Larkin. Larkin scored 14 in the first half, on 7-of-9 shooting, including one from beyond the three-point line.
Lincoln countered with the tandem of Chaz Sharp and Kyle Aiken, with 10 points each. Aiken’s 3-pointer with 1:26 gave Lincoln a lead it took into the break, finishing the half on a 6-3 run for a 33-31 halftime advantage.
“We’re really starting to play well as a team,” Aiken said. “There’s a lot of new faces here this year, and we’re finally starting to learn what each other can do. We’re starting to gel as a unit, and you see that with someone new coming up to lead in scoring, and get scores from everywhere.”
The wild second half had the capacity crowd on its feet, raising the decibel levels to ridiculously high levels. Over the course of the final 20 minutes, neither team got up by more than five, and the score was tied six times.
Statistically, the game couldn’t have been much more even. Despite a size advantage for the Lions, the Wolves kept pace with the visitors on the glass, with each team pulling down 40 rebounds. Joshua Davis led the way for Lincoln with eight boards, while Larkin’s seven paced Cheyney.
Both teams did a nice job protecting the ball, too, with Lincoln charged with just seven turnovers and Cheyney six.
“That was good to see,” Hill said. “We’ve been having games where we turn It over 19-20 times a game. So seeing the number go down where it was tonight is a big positive.”
With the score tied at 61-61 after a Eugene Lett layup for Cheyney, Lincoln grabbed the lead it would give up with 4:46 to play, when Rysheen Dorn was good on a free throw. Dorn led the Lions with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
“Coach has had us really working on shooting,” Dorn said. “We do 100 free throws and 100 jump shots every practice. It’s paying off.”
Free throws proved to be pivotal as Cheyney worked its way back in the game, but with time running out, were forced to foul to kill the clock.
Davis his pair of free throws with just eight seconds left to make it a two-possession game.
“I was totally comfortable with him in that situation,” Hill said. “We made a lot of free throws down the stretch and that was key.”
Cheyney did have one last gasp at the buzzer. Jerrod Johnson made the first of a pair of free throws to bring the Wolves within two, and missed the second. Rashan Brinkley grabbed the rebound and let go a buzzer-beater, but it banged off the rim, and Lincoln held on for the win.
“We haven’t lost to Cheyney in any of my four years here,” Aiken said. “We were about to let that happen tonight for the first time.”