Ismail Habib didn’t start for Lincoln Park on Friday and didn’t attempt a single shot in the first quarter.
And then the sophomore guard exploded. Habib made four three-pointers in a five-minute span to begin the second quarter — almost all well-contested, one while falling down, and all absolutely electrifying.
Habib eventually scored 25 points and fellow sophomore Julio Montes added 21 as No. 13 Lincoln Park survived Farragut’s furious second-half comeback to win 71-67.
“Our kids took care of what they needed to take care of, controlled the tempo when they needed to (and) knocked down free throws at the crucial time,” said assistant coach Anthony Ott, filling in for absent head coach Pat Gordon.
The Lions (14-6, 6-2 Red-North/West) led 13-2 early, 38-20 at halftime and by as much as 24 in the third quarter, but the host Admirals (11-6, 4-4) — on their senior night — rallied back via rampant offensive rebounding and efficient final-moments shooting.
Farragut senior guard Aaron Strong made a three-pointer with two seconds left to cut Lincoln Park’s lead to two, but Habib then made a couple of free throws to ice it.
Strong essentially composed the entirety of Farragut’s offense, scoring 33 points on 10-of-26 shooting; no one else scored more than seven for the Admirals. Tahir Thompson chipped in 12 points and five rebounds and Joe Tamatekou sunk some important late free throws for Lincoln Park.
The Lions’ field-goal shooting declined significantly in the second half, partially because of improved Farragut efforts to cover the perimeter and partially because they drew so many fouls instead (they went an absurd 31-of-46 from the charity stripe). Yet Lincoln Park nonetheless finished a solid 8-of-17 from deep — with Habib and Montes going 7-for-7 on their own.
“When we first came out, when the game first them, I told them that they were a three-point shooting team, because most of these guys haven’t seen this team before but I’ve seen them,” Strong said. “But we couldn’t execute on defense.”
The source of that three-point deadliness comes from an enormous emphasis on it in practice. Montes said every player on the team makes — makes, not attempts — about 100 three-pointers every day.
It also comes from the “Mamba mentality,” at least for Habib, who idolizes Kobe Bryant so much that he watches Bryant’s motivational videos on the bus ride and/or in the locker room before each game.
“To me, the ‘Mamba mentality’ is being your best, the best you can be at your craft. I got that from Kobe,” Habib said. “I’ve been awful a couple games, but this week we played Marshall and I was hitting the three-ball … so I just came into this game feeling good.”
This isn’t the first time this season Lincoln Park’s pair of sophomore sharpshooters have carried the Red-North/West’s biggest enigma to a big win — they did the exact same thing in December against Payton. The Lions are reaching a new tier of consistency now, though, with five straight wins under their belt.
Habib’s emergence as an up-and-coming star is a major reason why.
“He’s not afraid to step up in the clutch moments, and he always keeps an even keel about himself,” Ott said. “That’s what I love about him as a player.”