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Ahmad Rand’s near triple-double helps No. 10 Lincoln County survive GMC

No. 10 Lincoln County 61, Georgia Military 54

Coming off of its biggest win in school history, a 61-59 upset of No. 1 Hancock Central, No. 10 Lincoln County (14-5, 7-3) had won two straight games entering Saturday’s rematch with Georgia Military (10-7, 5-3), who had beaten the Red Devils 75-68 in overtime two weeks prior. With region seeding on the line heading into the Region 7-A tournament, upstart Lincoln County was looking to ride its momentum to another important victory. They did so, using an explosive first quarter to hold on 61-54 in Lincolnton.

The Red Devils came out and punched the Bulldogs in the mouth, opening up a quick 7-0 lead before Head Coach James Lunsford burned his first timeout. Just 55 seconds later, Lunsford called his second as Lincoln County led 9-2 after a Zach Crite And-1 at the 6:02 mark. Sophomore point guard Maciah Gunby tacked on Lincoln County’s third And-1 of the first quarter to go up 16-2, but he would later pick up back-to-back charge calls, sending him to the bench with three fouls in the first quarter.

Georgia Military’s Luke Lawson entered the game third in the state in scoring at 25.7 points per game. The free shooting guard got his first hoop with 2:32 left in the opening quarter to make it 20-5, but he would not score again as Zae Gartrell shut him out the rest of the way.

The first quarter ended with the Red Devils in control 23-8. With Gartrell locking up Lawson on the perimeter, it was Ahmad Rand patrolling the paint. The 6-foot-7 junior has been deemed as the ‘best kept secret’ in Georgia, but won’t be much longer. He finished the night with 10 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks to stifle GMC. Halfway through the second quarter Lincoln County was cruising up 31-8, but Coach Lunsford’s Bulldogs began to claw back.

An 8-0 run cut the lead to 31-16 before Rand found Crite in the corner for three. The Red Devils took a 35-21 advantage into the half, but since trailing 18-3 to open the game, the Bulldogs had outscored Lincoln County 18-17.

The Bulldogs canned three three-pointers in the second quarter and 6-foot-6 senior Alex Moss began to go to work inside, finishing with eight first half points to breathe life into GMC. With Gunby on the bench, Coach Wesley Wuchte’s main ball handler, Ty Elam stepped in. The dreaded 5-foot-10 guard scored seven of his 15 points in the first half to keep the Devils in front.

In the third quarter, Von Holloway started making things happen in the high post. He caught and looked diagonal, hitting a cutting Javon Reid for two.

Then he took it himself and drew his second And-1 opportunity on his way to finishing with eight points and six rebounds.

Late in the third quarter, Rand continued his block party, picking up his seventh swat of the day before Lincoln County entered the final frame with a commanding 49-31 lead.

Things soured for Lincoln County in the fourth. Moss began to take over, playing the passing lanes to pick off a pass and score two of his game-high 23 points, 13 which came in the final eight minutes.

The onslaught was on as the Red Devils tried to weather the storm which came in the form of Moss, Malik Foston and the Bulldog press. Foston drilled four threes and finished with 15 points and five steals, keying the GMC pressure. With 2:37 remaining, Lincoln County held a 57-42 advantage but the lead did not feel safe, especially after Rand had to come out of the game after cutting his hand on the rim while blocking a shot.

With under two minutes to play, GMC sliced the deficit to 11 points. Feeling the heat and the momentum all in the visiting Bulldogs’ corner, Coach Wuchte turned to Rand, now heavily bandaged, to re-enter the game but upon subbing in the referees would not allow him back on the court due to a drop of blood on his shorts. Wuchte in disbelief hurried Rand back into the locker room to change shorts with a teammate. With 30 more crucial seconds off the clock with Rand not on the floor, the Bulldogs brought the game within single digits at 57-48 with 1:15 left, the closest they had been since the first three minutes of the first quarter.

Things continued to meltdown even with Rand back on the floor, as the Red Devils brain cramped and allowed GMC to throw the ball over their heads on a made basket for a wide open layup which was goaltended by Rand at the last second, making it 57-50 with 41.9 seconds to play, a frantic 14-4 run.

Gunby was sent to the line and sank both free throws. The Bulldogs would never climb any closer than a seven-point deficit as the Red Devils survived the late rally which saw the Bulldogs outscore Lincoln County 23-12 in the fourth quarter.

My Take: Lincoln County is not a team people are going to want to face in the state tournament. Class A-Public goes by the flawed “Power Ranking” system introduced by the GHSA, so it will be imperative for the Red Devils to do well in the region tournament to ensure they do not get shafted. Lincoln County lost back-to-back games before scoring a signature win over No. 1 Hancock Central, the Red Devils first win over the 1A-Public powerhouse in over 25 years. That momentum obviously carried over as they smoked Glascock County 82-40 on Friday and opened Saturday’s game on an 18-3 run. Zach Crite is a versatile scorer from his wing position. The senior has enough strength to barrel his way inside and also shows touch from beyond the arc. Maciah Gunby was slapped with foul trouble early but played well when he was on the floor. His two late free throws in the fourth quarter thwarted Georgia Military’s furious comeback. Von Holloway was like a bull in a china shop at times inside, showing off his football mentality when attacking the basket and going after rebounds. He needs more polish when finishing inside against contact, but he did an exceptional job of being patient working the high post and deciding whether to attack the cup or look down low for a dump off. Ahmad Rand was Ahmad Rand. The junior can’t be slept on anymore. He has come out of nowhere and exploded onto the scene with his season average of nearly a triple-double and he didn’t disappoint, flirting with another to add to his school-record, collecting 10 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks. Rand is a late bloomer and is just starting to scratch the surface of the potential he holds. Right now he is an elite rim protector. He showed a feathery touch from one foot inside the three-point line, burying a jumper. Inside, he displayed nice footwork, ducking in between defenders to score baskets. Rand is a gem in Lincolnton and could become something of a legned in the football town if he continues to put 110% into improving his game every single day. For me, the unsung heroes of the game were Zae Gartrell and Ty Elam. Elam stepped in when Gunby was saddled with three fouls and produced admirably, finishing with 15 points and four steals off the bench. Gartrell only scored two points, but his tenacious defense on Luke Lawson was spectacular, not even letting the gun slinger think about firing up shots.

Georgia Military witnessed Lawson’s worst game of the season, but in turn probably saw Alex Moss’ best game. The 6-foot-6 senior battled for 23 points and seven rebounds inside, working for every hoop he got against Rand and the Red Devil interior. He averages 11 points and 9 rebounds on the year and has been a workhorse inside all season for Coach James Lunsford. Malik Foston, a funky shooting freshman, looked good as well. He netted 15 points and picked up five steals leading the charge defensively as the Bulldogs quickly worked their way back into the game.

Top Performers

Lincoln County
Ahmad Rand – 10 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 9 blocks
Zach Crite – 16 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals
Ty Elam – 15 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 steals
Von Holloway – 8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists
Maciah Gunby – 8 points, 1 assist

Georgia Military
Alex Moss – 23 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals
Malik Foston – 15 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 5 steals
Andrew Weimer – 8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal
Luke Lawson – 2 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist
Markus Taylor – 4 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals
Dustin Hostetter – 1 point, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block

Lincoln County Quickly Becoming More Than Just A Football School

500 Wins. An .830 winning percentage. 33 Region titles. 11 State Championships. That is Lincoln County’s resume for football. Lincolnton, one of the best pigskin towns in the state. For basketball? Try 1998 as the Red Devils’ last notable winning season. Lincoln County has long been known as a football county but with Wesley Wuchte at the helm and Ahmad Rand inside, the two are steering the Red Devils to one of the program’s best seasons in school history.

Currently Lincoln County is 7-3 overall and ranked No. 7 in Class A-Public. It has been a vast turnaround from last year’s 10-11 campaign. Coach Wuchte, a former Evans High School standout under Coach Kevin Kenny and Aiken Tech forward for Coach Bruce Capers, is in his second year as varsity head coach after leading the junior varsity. The 26-year-old coach has overseen the slow development of the program, coaching all the juniors and sophomores on the roster since they were in eighth and ninth grade. Wuchte also serves as the Lincoln County Middle School head coach.

At 26, Coach Wuchte has led the Red Devils to their best start in years
At 26, Coach Wuchte has led the Red Devils to their best start in years

So how has Lincoln County gotten off to a fast start? It has to do with taking the seriousness on the gridiron and transferring over that same winning attitude onto the hardwood.

“I think it’s just buying into the culture,” explained Wuchte. “It’s a big football school out here. I only have three of my kids that don’t play football and only play basketball and that’s Zach [Crite], Ahmad [Rand] and Maciah [Gunby], which are my three leading scorers.

“Overall they are just buying into the culture. …They are playing defense hard, they play together and they are playing for one another.”

Introducing Ahmad Rand

For a program that hasn’t seen a winning season in nearly two decades, Wuchte was brought in with a young energy and a passion to turn things around. Players have been held accountable, film has been dissected with the team and each player has bought into doing the little things in order to be successful.

As the team has grown and realized something special could be on the horizon, one star has shined bright. 6-foot-7 junior forward Ahmad Rand has blossomed into the centerpiece for a now balanced attack with Crite (16.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.8 spg), Gunby (9.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Devon Holloway (11.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg) all making key contributions. The interest in Rand has started to grow and for good reason as he has shattered the school record for triple-doubles and is averaging an eye-popping 16.7 points, 16.4 rebounds and 9.6 blocks per game this year. He has heard from a handful of Division II schools and one D-I program, Kennesaw State University.

(L-R) Ahmad Rand, Zach Crite & Devon Holloway
(L-R) Ahmad Rand, Zach Crite & Devon Holloway

Rand has helped turn Lincoln County into a highlight factory with his dunks and ability to swat any shot thrown his way. The Red Devils welcomed rival Washington-Wilkes to Lincoln County last Tuesday and won 74-64 in front of a sell-out crowd that hasn’t been seen in years thanks to the hype that Rand and the rest of the Red Devils have built.

“It was so packed. It was so unreal. Kids were like ‘man I’ve never seen the gym this packed’ and I said yeah, you guys are turning it around, continue to grind. We are in the right direction, I’ll tell you that,” said Wuchte.

Finding Focus

Rand initially played football his freshman year but decided basketball was his calling after Wuchte encouraged him to focus on hoops. So how has Rand turned himself into a household name? It didn’t happen overnight or by luck.

“He just dedicated his whole entire offseason. So every day, I’m talking about four or five days a week him, Maciah and Zach, those three would be in there every day and Ahmad and Maciah especially, religiously they came every day,” said Wuchte.

Ahmad agreed that it has been a lot of hard work that has gotten him to the level of play he’s reached this season.

“I’ve been doing a lot of individual workouts with my coach in the offseason. Plus I’ve been into AAU which has definitely helped me out a little bit,” said Rand.

Ahmad Rand has overcome obstacles to become a premier '17 player
Ahmad Rand has overcome obstacles to become a premier ’17 player

Rand played over the summer with Team Power in Augusta but may be branching out to play with the Atlanta Xpress, one of the best Under Armour sponsored teams in the entire nation which features the likes of MJ Walker (Jonesboro), Elias Harden (Sandy Creek), Rayshaun Hammonds (Norcross) and Michael Durr (Westlake) as some headlining juniors.

Rand says he is used to playing power forward or center, but understands that if he joins a larger team or plays at the next level he may see a lot of time at the small forward position as well.

When asked why he decided to dedicate his life to improving on the court and in the classroom, one name came up as a motivating force.

“To be honest, he’s [Coach Wuchte] is the main reason why I’ve made it this far,” said Rand. “I didn’t really start taking basketball serious until my freshman year and sophomore year. He’s been helping me a lot during the offseason and doing a lot of workouts. He’s been pushing me and motivating me. Every day in the car ride home he’s telling me what I need to improve on and what other stuff I need to do.”

On The Map

As Coach Wuchte continued to provide support and guidance for Rand, the light went on as Ahmad realized he could have a future in basketball.

“When I started seeing myself get better, I started going home and thinking real hard about it. This year I said I have to have a better season than last year and that’s what I’ve been doing. And every day I’ve been working harder and harder and my name started getting out there more.”

Along with seeing his own name popping up across the internet, the re-emergence of Lincoln County basketball has been something special to Ahmad and something he takes pride in being a part of.

“Knowing that Lincoln County is a football county, we have a lot of leaders. Me and our starting shooting guard were talking about it. We have to bring LC up. This week we’ve beaten teams from Augusta and everything so that has been helping us get our name out there a lot.”

It’s been a long time coming, but Lincoln County basketball is finally being put back on the map by Coach Wuchte, Rand and a strong junior and senior class. With only around 350 kids in the school, the Red Devils have learned to become a close knit team, not only by suiting up together but by blood as Rand is cousins with both junior Zae Gartell and sophomore Javon Reid, who also stars as the Red Devils’ quarterback in football, a team which finished 9-2 this year.

Don’t be surprised if Lincoln County with its new found focus and emphasis on basketball becomes a statewide player on both the football field and the basketball court.

Chad Cook of @AugBball breaks down Lincoln County’s win over Lakeside: http://www.augbball.com/2015/12/lincoln-county-improves-to-3-0-with-win.html