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12-10-12 Lincoln-Way Central's Kevin Mampe goes against the Evergreen Park's defense Monday night in New Lenox. photo for Sun-Times Media by Jean Lachat

Nick Kowalkowski drilled two free throws with 8.3 seconds left to give Lincoln-Way Central a five point edge as the Knights held on to beat Evergreen Park 52-49 Monday in the opener of the Knights/Warriors Winter Classic.

“I didn’t think about missing them at all,” Kowalkowski said of his final free throws. “I got to the line and thought about helping my team get the win and getting back on defense.”

Kowalkowski buried a pair of deep threes and went 6-for-6 from the stripe to finish with a game-high 16 points. Brad Bass added 14 and Matt Mikolajczak netted 9 for the Knights.

Evergreen Park (1-6) received 10 points apiece from Turron Clayton and Jacquet McClendon. Clayton sat out the first-half after missing practice on Saturday due to illness.

Central (3-5) mounted a 12-3 advantage after the first frame and took a 10 point lead into the half thanks to Kevin Mampe finding Kowalkowski for a pair of smooth buckets just before the break. Mampe first found Kowalkowski in the post for a sweet turnaround jumper, and then again behind the arc for Kowalkowski’s first 3-pointer.

Turnovers from both teams marred the second half, but Bass, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, hit the most important field goal of the game with 1:12 remaining to stop a 7-0 Evergreen Park run and give the Knights a 47-39 advantage.

“Brad does a lot for us,” Central coach Bob Curran said. “We’re not a big team, but he rebounds defensively and covers the middle.”

Evergreen Park had its chances but finished 2-for-8 behind the arc while committing 20 turnovers, eight of which came in the third quarter.

“We’re not a good shooting team,” Mustangs coach Pat Flannigan said. “When we turn the ball over like that, we really have trouble scoring.”

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