FORT MYERS, Fla. – Dwayne (Tiny) Morton thought his team turned a corner with a win against Roman Catholic (Pa.) Monday. Instead, Lance Stephenson turned an ankle and the Lincoln boys’ basketball team took a step backward in a 68-56 loss to Westchester (Calif.) at the City of Palms Classic at Bishop Verot HS Tuesday afternoon.
Westchester, ranked No. 10 in the country by USA Today, rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to capture fifth place in the tournament. The 16th-ranked Railsplitters went 2-2 in a tournament considered the best in the nation.
“I thought yesterday we got back on track,” Morton said. “There’s no way this team was better than us.”
It looked like that in the first half when Lincoln (7-3) went into the locker room with a seemingly comfortable, 32-19 lead. Stephenson was on fire, scoring 17 first-half points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Maryland-bound James Padgett, who is nursing a sore ankle, had nine of his 15 points in the first half and he shot 7-of-7 from the field in the game.
“I was happy with everybody in the first half, especially Padgett,” Morton said. “He’s injured, but he’s the only one not giving me no bull. He’s injured; he’s trying to run. I’m happy with Padgett, happy he played the whole tournament.”
Things changed drastically in the second half. Westchester (12-1) opened the third quarter on a 17-0 run before Stephenson responded with a 16-foot jumper with 3:10 left in the third quarter.
It would be his lone basket of the second half. One minute later, one of the top unsigned seniors in the country was lying on the court in pain, clutching his left ankle. He was helped off the court and into the locker room and didn’t return.
“Somebody pushed me while I was about to go for a rebound and I slipped on somebody’s foot,” Stephenson said. “They said it was a sprain, that I should just keep off of it and relax.”
Stephenson limped out of the locker room without the need for crutches. The Railsplitters return to the court Jan. 6 at Boys & Girls, which should give Stephenson and Padgett plenty of time to get healthy.
“I’ve got enough time to heal up, so I’ll just do a lot of extra stuff and try and get back as soon as possible,” Stephenson said.
Without Stephenson, Morton said Lincoln lacked that leader the team needed down the stretch.
But that wasn’t an excuse.
“We played like [crap] and lost the game,” he said.
However, Lincoln’s offense clearly took a hit without the multi-faceted, 6-foot-5 guard.
“I think when I got hurt the game changed around,” Stephenson said. “We’ll be all right. We just have to work harder in practice and stay focused.”
Dominique O’Conner scored 16 of his game-high 21 points in the second half to lead the Comets, who outscored the Railsplitters, 49-24, in the second half. Jordin Mayes and Kareem Jamar scored 11 points apiece and Deshun McCoy added 10 points and six rebounds before fouling out late.
Stephenson, though, wasn’t impressed with Westchester.
“I think we should have smacked them by at least 20,” Stephenson said. “I think we were way better than that team.”
Lincoln will get a chance to prove that on Feb. 14 when it takes on the Comets again at the Primetime Shootout in Trenton.