Austin outlasts Lehman for final playoff spot

As the final seconds ticked off the Bales Gym scoreboard Friday, members of the Lehman Lobos boys basketball team let their emotions flow.

For the second time in as many weeks, Lehman didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to punch a postseason ticket. Friday’s 57-49 play-in game loss to the Austin Maroons, the team’s second straight defeat to Austin in a week’s time, brought the Lobos’ historic season to a heartbreaking end.   

Despite falling a step short of their dreams, head coach Steven Pinchback extolled his team’s efforts on the court, no matter the outcome.

“We’re trying to change the culture. They’re not used to success. This gives you a taste of success,” Pinchback said. “As long as you’re thirsty for that, you’re going to do whatever it takes to get that. I’m proud of them. We’re doing some good things.”

Lehman’s loss centered on the inability to stop red-hot Maroon shooters in the third frame.  Austin, which led 27-25 at halftime, exploded to outscore the Lobos 14-6 in the third quarter, helping to expand their lead to 41-31.

The Lobos failed to contain Austin guard Josh Jones, who scored seven of his game-high 26 total points in the third frame, as well as Calvin Williams, who tallied 12-points.

Rebounding woes also played a part in overall Lobo struggles. Austin crashed the glass with ease and out rebounded Lehman by a significant margin. Lobo forward Nijah Collier said Austin’s post players excelled at boxing out on rebounds. Collier said the Lobos needed to crash the boards more.

“It’s just working fundamentals, blocking out. They’re a good team and I give them respect,” Pinchback said. “Hopefully we earn respect. But those are things that will get you beat. I want these guys to learn from that.”

Conversely, Lehman struggled to find a rhythm on the offensive end. Lobo guard Zackary Harris, who finished a team-high 12-points, felt the team took too many bad and forced shots in the contest.

Anxiety stemming from the high-pressure situation also played a factor in Lobo troubles, too.

“None of us have ever been here before. This is the furthest we’ve ever been as a program,” Harris said. “It was a good experience, though. It was a good experience for the future.”

Austin carried that momentum into a 43-33 lead early in the fourth quarter. Lehman, however, battled back and orchestrated a wild two-minute, 9-2 run that shrunk the Maroon advantage to 45-42 with roughly three minutes left. 

Harris led the way with several key buckets, including a critical three-pointer, along with Collier, who scored six of his eight total points in the final frame.

“I just tried to do whatever I could for our team, to try and get the lead,” Harris said. 

Free points from the charity stripe, however, kept Austin a step ahead of Lehman the rest of the way. Austin, which hit 85 percent from the free throw line on the night, was 14-of-16 from the charity stripe in the final quarter.

While there was disappointment in having their season end, Pinchback said such adversity is essential for championship-caliber teams to experience.

“I told them I love them and that we’re one of the most successful classes in school history, period,” Pinchback said. “I’m very proud of them. Sometimes it’s like that.”

Taking those lessons learned from this season is what Collier expects to provide a spark next season.

“I feel like the potential for the team is limitless,” Collier said. “From here on, we’re oinly going to get better. Everyone is working hard. Next year is going to be a good year.”

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