JOHNSTON â€” Its star player might have been lost to a head injury in the early stages of the game, but that didnâ€™t prevent Lincoln from giving one of the Division IIâ€™s best teams a hard-fought battle to the end on Thursday night.
Host Johnston celebrated its Senior Night with a victory over the Lions in the Division II-North regular-season finale for both playoff teams, but the Lions turned in strong games defensively and on the glass and gave the Panthers a run for their money before winding up with a 36-34 loss.
The Panthers, who close their season with a 13-3 record and a second-place finish behind neighboring Scituate (14-2), and the Lions, who finish with an 8-8 record, were involved in a tight back-and-forth contest that featured eight lead changes, five ties, and only one lead over five points.
And Lincoln hung tough with its hosts despite losing the services of senior forward Emily Bouthillette just 5:05 into the game.
She and Johnstonâ€™s Francesca Gaudiana both fell to the ground after Bouthillette tried to prevent Gaudiana from scoring on a fast-break layup, and before Bouthillette could move over and get back on her feet, a Johnston player accidentally stepped on her head.
Bouthillette stayed on the ground, holding her head in her hands, for a couple of minutes before heading to the bench without any assistance. She eventually left the gym with her family and went to a nearby hospital.
The Lions, meanwhile, did their best to regroup and give their hosts all they could handle. They especially frustrated the Panthers with their aggressive defense and denied them of getting any second shots on the defensive glass for most of the night.
â€śThey play hard every night,â€ť said Lions coach Andrew Hallam. â€śTheyâ€™re the definition of heart on the court, and thatâ€™s why I love being their coach. Weâ€™re playing hard, weâ€™re playing smarter, and weâ€™re getting better. I think weâ€™re a better team than our record, but the girls have fun, theyâ€™re a little mini family, and thatâ€™s all I can ask for.â€ť
The Panthers, who topped the Lions, 51-39, in their Jan. 15 affair in Lincoln, eventually took the lead for good with 9:43 to play in the contest on a three-pointer by their standout sophomore guard Karina Mattera, who scored a contest-high 13 points and is averaging 17.9 points per game this season.
They ended up taking the biggest lead of the contest (36-29) on a layup by Mattera with 2:20 to play, but the Lions did everything they could to get back in the game. They held Johnston scoreless the rest of the way, but only managed five points on 5-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line in the final 1:25.
Speaking of free-throw shooting, that was one department that wasnâ€™t too kind to either team, especially the Lions, who took more than double the attempts the Panthers did, but ended up shooting 50 percent (14-for-28). The Panthers, who committed 22 of the gameâ€™s 35 fouls, was a shade above 30 percent (4-for-13).
The Lions received a strong game off the bench from the other senior on their 11-player roster, Emmalee Mello, who scored 11 points, and along with McKenzie Cavanaugh and Shirley Carrington, were awfully tough on the glass. Junior guards Kellyn Dyer (seven points) and Casie Beauchemin also teamed up to score 13 points.