State runner-up: Lincoln Charter can’t hold on against determined Wilson Prep

By Richard Walker

Lincoln Charter coach Brad Gabriel meets with his team following Saturday’s N.C. 1A state finals defeat. [@LCS_Lincolnton twitter photo]
Four years ago, Lincoln Charter set county history when it was a state boys basketball championship.

For much of Saturday afternoon’s 2021 N.C. 1A state final at Wheatmore High School, it appeared the Eagles would get their second title in an emotionally-wrenching season.

Instead, Wilson Prep put forth a closing kick that overcame as much as an 11-point deficit to win 65-58 and end Lincoln Charter’s season with a 16-3 overall record and state runner-up finish.

“I told the guys that one game doe not define who we are,” Lincoln Charter coach Brad Gabriel said. “There’s a lot of schools that would like to be in this situation. It’s still a great feeling to be here.”

Lincoln Charter dedicated its season to assistant coach Jamie Seitz, who died of COVID-19 on Dec. 27, 2020 and had one player lose his home due to a fire.

Driven by those emotions, the Eagles won a seventh straight Southern Piedmont 1A Conference title and rolled through the state playoffs to make the school’s second state finals appearance.

In Saturday’s game, the Eagles attacked Wilson Prep early and led 17-13 after one quarter, 34-26 at halftime and by 39-28 and 41-30 before the four-year-old Tigers turned the tables and become the aggressors with their tall and talented lineup.

Coached by former Barton NCAA Division II national championship-winning guard and former Harlem Globetrotters standout Anthony Atkinson, Wilson Prep had faced adversity as well this season.

Sam Cogan receives his most outstanding player plaque. [NCHSAA photo]
Wilson Prep lost its first three games due to COVID issues with opposing schools and later had an 18-day program pause due to COVID issues in its program that cost the team five games.

When the regular season ended, the Tigers had played only four games but got hot in the playoffs and advanced to their first state final.

And by using a lineup that put five players on the floor at the same time that are 6-foot-4 or taller, Wilson Prep forged its comeback against Lincoln Charter.

“It was a very physical game,” Gabriel said. “I just like some of the calls didn’t go our way. We didn’t play well. We turned the ball over (21 times), which is uncharacteristic of us. We average like eight turnovers a game. Their size definitely played a role down the stretch.”

Sam Cogan, who had 15 points, six rebounds and three assists, was named Lincoln Charter’s most outstanding player following the game. Elijah Burnette also had 15 points and Troy Fulton had 12.

For Wilson Prep, 6-9 Eric Wynn led the way with 17 points and 10 rebounds in 18 minutes of the bench. The 6-5 Devyn Bullock added 13 points and the 6-4 Nasiar Blackston 12 points and five assists.

The Tigers, who missed their first 10 3-point attempts of the game, nailed their first with 1:15 to play to cut the Lincoln Charter lead to 43-37.

Wilson Prep caught and passed the Eagles on two Blackston free throws with 4:52 to play to take a 48-47 advantage. And the Tigers closed the game on a 32-15 surge that began with their first 3-point conversion.

“We typically don’t play zone all that much,” Gabriel said. “But when they’ve got 6-9, 6-6, 6-5, 6-4 out there, we had to do something. They hit when they had to.”

Said Atkinson: “It feels great. To come back home after being on the road with the (Harlem) Globetrotters and get this title is really special.”

Gabriel loses only four seniors off his 12-player roster, among them Jamie Seitz’s son Carter Seitz.

“I’m not said and I’m not unhappy,” Gabriel said. “I’m for the kids because of how they responded this season. I just hate we couldn’t experience a win in our last game.”