Rodney Klein gave Ben Singer simple advice with 5 seconds left and the ball in Lincoln’s hands.
Catch the ball. Go to the bucket.
Singer listened to his coach, dribbled his way down the court and banked in a runner right in front of the free-throw line just before the buzzer sounded.
There was no other way this one could end.
Singer’s final shot lifted Lincoln to a 53-51 overtime thriller over Lincoln on Friday — and lifted the Golden Eagles into tonight’s Wayne County Tournament championship game.
The Golden Eagles, winners of five straight, will face host Hagerstown for the crown.
“In that last huddle, coach called me up for that last play and I knew I had to do something,” Singer said. “It was just the right time.”
Singer finished with 14 points, one of three Golden Eagles to find double figures. Grant Renforth led Lincoln with 19 points and added seven rebounds, while Tyler Klein provided a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Both teams provided several big plays at critical times.
Mason Slinker drilled a 3-pointer for Northeastern that pulled the Knights within one late in overtime. Corey Dingwerth hit inside buckets that gave Northeastern late leads in both the fourth quarter and the extra session.
Lincoln’s Evan Underwood contributed a big basket in overtime for the Golden Eagles, and, time and again, Klein and Renforth gave Lincoln a much-needed boost inside.
“Our kids, they battled,” coach Klein said. “We didn’t play particularly well offensively, and you have to give Northeastern a lot of credit for that. Northeastern’s long, they’re athletic. They show you zone presses we haven’t seen all year long.
“Our kids just kept battling. You could tell they were there, and things would start falling. We just got good effort. … We had kids make big plays all night long tonight.”
Slinker led Northeastern with 15 points, while Alex Smith added 11 and Dingwerth scored 11 to go with a game-high 11 rebounds.
The Knights (7-5) are without leading scorer Andy Scripture (hand), and sophomore Grant Esposito, a steady shooter, was limited because of illness.
“(Singer) came down, and he hit a heck of a shot over a couple of people,” said Northeastern coach Brent Ross. “You give both teams credit. That’s what coach Klein and I said — it was a tough one for anybody to lose.
“We’re going to come back and we’re going to look at film and we’re going to get better. I feel like we’re getting better every day.”
Northeastern started strong — the Knights scored the game’s first six points and led 8-4 after one quarter — but Lincoln surged back to grab a 16-15 lead at halftime.
“It’s a great feeling,” Singer said of making the final. “We kind of started off slow, but we picked it up at the end.”
Hagerstown (10-0) advanced to the final with a 49-31 victory Thursday over Centerville. That ended the Bulldogs’ eight-year winning streak in the tournament, and guaranteed a new county champion or the first time since 2004.
Lincoln (6-2) last appeared in the final in 2008. The Golden Eagles’ last title came in 2000. Hagerstown last won the county crown in 2001.
The Tigers and Golden Eagles have battled once previously this season, a 62-58 decision that went to Hagerstown on Nov. 30 in Cambridge City.
“They just have so many weapons,” Klein said of the Tigers. ” … You can just start going down the line and it’s hard to find a weakness. … They’re a good basketball team. Hopefully we’ll fight (in the final) and see what happens.”