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New-look Lincoln, Jefferson rivalry lives up to billing

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The Abraham Lincoln–Thomas Jefferson rivalry began a new chapter last week.

It’s one without coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton patrolling the Lincoln sidelines for the first time in two decades, without Lincoln having an All-American-caliber star, and one where Jefferson plays the role of favorite for the first time among two of the city’s premier boys’ basketball programs.

A lot has changed in less than a year, including many of the faces on both sides, but the intensity, fan interest, and level of play have not.

“Between us it is always going to be a good intense game,” said Jefferson junior guard Shamorie Ponds.

Jefferson gutted out a 98–86 victory Dec. 18 in front of a raucous standing-room-only crowd in East New York. The game was intense, clean, and dramatic. It was everything hoops in the five boroughs is about.

“We have a young team and they really aren’t used to a hostile environment,” said Lincoln junior Jahlil Tripp.

Orange Wave coach Lawrence “Bud” Pollard called himself the “Big Dog” in Brooklyn in March after his team sent highly-favored Lincoln home in the Public School Athletic League Class AA semifinals. Pollard can bark even louder now that he has the best player on the floor in Ponds. The junior had 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists and made multiple key shots in last week’s game.

“He feeds off that,” Pollard said of Ponds’s reaction to the big stage. “He loves the thrill and the villain. He loves that. I thought he played well today. He has the heart and courage.”

Ponds shined the brightest in the contest, but Lincoln may have found its stars of the future in Tripp and freshman guard Tyler Bourne. They combined for 37 points. Tripp controlled the paint and Bourne played with a poise beyond his years.

“He had a great game.” Lincoln coach Kenny Pretlow said of Bourne. “He hit shots, came up with a big steal and put us up twice. “He’s playing phenomenal for a freshman.”

While the game certainly lived up to the rivalry’s standards, not having Morton and a cast of Division-I stars on the other side certainly lessened the tension between the programs. Jefferson and Pollard had struggled to beat the Morton-led version of Lincoln, including a loss in the city final two years ago. Pollard had nothing but praise for what Pretlow is doing with his group.

“I don’t see any let down in that program,” Pollard said. “He’s doing a lot more with less talent over there.”

This was just the opening act of possibly two or three more meetings between two teams that will only get better. There is plenty to look forward too, like lead changes, dagger threes, animated coaches, and two groups of players looking to leave their marks.

“I know Jefferson is a title contender, but I think we hung in there,” Pretlow said. “We showed fight and we took the lead twice. This is going to help them get better.”

All signs point to the games and the rivalry getting better, as well.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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