The Meadows boys basketball coach Brian Lang had to give Joseph Epstein a piggy-back ride to the locker room on Saturday.
Lang’s senior star had given it all he had.
Epstein had a game-high 17 points, but the Mustangs struggled to find consistency on offense and fell 38-33 to Incline in the Class 2A state title game at Orleans Arena.
Epstein had six points in the first quarter, but rolled his ankle in the first half. Though he didn’t come off the floor, he wasn’t quite the same after that, especially in the second half when he was 2-for-12 from the field.
“He played through it the rest of the game, but it was hurting him pretty bad,” Lang said. “It’s a senior. You don’t want to take him out. It’s his last game. We’re going to ride with him.”
The Mustangs led 19-18 at the half, but managed just four points in the third quarter to allow the Highlanders to take a 28-23 lead.
The Meadows was 2-for-18 from the field in the middle quarters.
“Our defense is usually our offense,” Lang said. “But we gave them some 3s, and it kind of messed with our confidence a little bit. We should have just sticked to the script and take away those 3s.”
The Mustangs twice pulled within a basket in the fourth quarter, the first time on a 3-pointer by Epstein and the second on a bucket by Obinna Ezeanolue with 2:14 to play that made it 33-31.
The Mustangs looked to get the ball back inside to the 6-foot-5-inch Ezeanolue down the stretch, but weren’t able to make the post entry.
“Our guards struggled handling the ball tonight, getting the ball inside to Obinna,” Lang said. “It hurt us. They were putting a little pressure on our guards, and they were fumbling.”
John Redfern had 13 points to lead Incline (25-6), which hit six 3-pointers.
Ezeanolue added nine points and 15 rebounds for The Meadows (15-10).
“You don’t ever want it to end this way, but I’m proud of my guys,” Lang said. “The adversity we dealt with throughout the season and to be here… they won the region last week. You can’t hold your heads. It’s a bounce of the ball tonight.”
Eva Kingston scored eight of her 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead White Pine to a 34-25 win over Incline in the 2A girls championship game.
Kingston had nine points in the first quarter to help the Bobcats take the lead early, and Incline didn’t score in the second quarter as White Pine maintained control.
Elisabeth Stranzl had 11 points to lead the Highlanders.