Although the Norfolk High boys got off to a slow start defensively against Lincoln High — allowing the Links to turn offensive rebounds and steals into second- and third-chance points — the Panthers responded with 40 points in the second half to cement a 66-64 victory.

“We always teach toughness for 32 minutes, and we really talk a lot about how they respond to things that happen,” Norfolk coach Matt Shelsta said. “I thought they took coaching well, they took us challenging them well and they responded in the second half.”

Lincoln High built a 12-point first-quarter lead by answering the Panthers’ initial field goal with a 14-0 run and led 26-16 early in the second. Norfolk’s change from man defense to a zone prevented the winless Links from building an insurmountable advantage.

“Our 3-2 zone kind of slowed them down after they got a good run in the first quarter because we were in man-to-man and couldn’t stop them,” Shelsta said. “In the second half, we found their shooters better in the 3-2 and didn’t let them get easy looks. They still knocked some down because they’re talented.”

“I also thought we weathered (Lincoln High’s) storms pretty well. As many advantages as Lincoln High had, at the end of the first quarter, the difference was six points, and at halftime it was six,” he said. “(The problems) were things that we could overcome; it wasn’t too much for our guys. We decided not to worry about the score, to just go play the way we know how to play and execute the way we know how, and just see where it leads us.”

Kallan Herman overcame shooting woes of his own to jump-start Norfolk’s second-half comeback, shaking off 3 of 15 shooting in the first half, to score 17 of the Panthers’ 20 points in the third period on the way to a 36-point total.

The Panthers still trailed by eight midway through the third, then took a brief one-possession lead on a Herman pull-up jumper. He drained a long 3 from the left wing at the buzzer ending the period to trim the deficit to two points.

But Herman wasn’t providing all of Norfolk’s offense.

Fellow senior Isaac Heimes contributed a career-high 21 points against the Links, making 7 of 9 field goals, including 4 of 5 3-point attempts.

The two combined to score all of the Panthers’ 20 fourth-quarter points — making two 3s each and converting all six of their free throw opportunities in a final period that saw two ties and three lead changes before Norfolk took the lead for good at 60-58 on a Herman 3 from the point. The Panthers then used two Heimes free throws along with four from Herman to hold onto that lead despite Lincoln High’s full-court pressure and fouling strategy.

“We had trouble in some close games early in the year where we didn’t even in-bound the ball well against pressure; we’d get it stolen, knocked out of our hands and give the other team a chance to win. We just didn’t execute those well,” Shelsta said. “The guys really worked on it this week; we got better, we executed and we knocked down free throws.”

Shelsta was pleased with Heimes’ 21-point effort and believes more players are capable of providing additional offense for the 4-9 Panthers.

“Colby James had 17 points on Tuesday against Lincoln North Star, and tonight we had Isaac with 21, so we’ve got guys who are starting to step up a little bit with Kamari (Moore) out with injury. That’s what we need; we need more balance in our scoring,” Shelsta said. “Kallan is a special player where he can get his points, but we need even more of the other guys stepping up.”

“I think it’s just been a matter of confidence for Isaac; it’s only been two months since we started practice, and it’s only been 11 games since we’ve worked together,” he said. “When you’re expected to be a contributor, a starter, a leader for our team, it takes time when you haven’t been that person in the past, but there’s plenty of season left.”

Lincoln High 22 10 16 16 — 64

Norfolk 16 10 20 20 — 66

Lincoln High (0-9): Andrew Gaines 4-8 4-4 12, Carson Hillhouse 0-1 0-0 0, JR Gatnoor 2-5 0-0 4, Isaac Montgomery 2-5 0-1 4, Livon Ramsey 9-16 0-2 18, Antonio Murill0 0-1 1-2 1, Gatran Gatnoor 6-13 2-2 18, Collin Nick 2-5 1-2 7. Totals: 25-54 8-13 64

Norfolk (4-9): Shon King 1-3 2-2 4, Isaac Heimes 7-8 3-4 21, Kallan Herman 12-26 8-9 36, Colton Price 1-2 0-0 2, Colby James 0-4 0-0 0, Daydon Taylor 1-4 1-1 3. Totals: 22-48 14-16 66.

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