MISSOULA — Gone from Jack Lincoln's game day attire is the slim headband he used to hold back his hair during his sophomore season. Lincoln's locks Tuesday night, while still flowing, weren't quite as full and didn't need the extra support.

"Last year he could have got in the shampoo commercials; this year we'll have to come up with a new endorsement for him," Loyola Sacred Heart coach Eddie Stack said, jokingly. 

The good news for Loyola Sacred Heart is the haircut didn't lead to a Samson effect for the wing. His game-high 27 points in the Rams' 62-44 win against Corvallis at the Sister Rita Mudd Activity Center were proof plenty that the junior is at full strength.

Which is good, because Loyola — and Lincoln — have some lofty goals. 

"(Our goal) is a state championship, 100 percent," said Lincoln. Loyola is coming off a 2016-17 season that saw the Rams drop a double-overtime state semifinal game and Loyola ultimately left with no hardware.

"All we can do is try to win every game."

The Rams made good on that ambition in the season opener.

***

Behind the strength of a high-pressure, and constantly changing defense the Rams built a 10-0 lead to christen the game and the 2017-18 calendar. Lincoln scored four in the run, which was capped by Jacob Hollenback's steal and coast-to-coast finish on the other end. 

Less than three minutes in, Class B Loyola had a double-digit lead on Class A Corvallis.

"The way they play is so difficult because they trap you so many ways, they come at you hard, they have so many good guys on the perimeter and their big guys are tough," Corvallis coach Zane Warnken said, praising his opponent. "They're a really good basketball team."

But the Blue Devils battled back with a 14-4 run of their own to close the opening frame. Kobe Jessop, who led Corvallis with 21 points, channeled the Black Mamba himself with two late-quarter 3-pointers.

Jessop's second of the frame was vintage Kobe, as it beat the buzzer and tied the game at 14-apiece. He emphatically slapped his chest several times, inciting a furor on the Blue Devil bench.

"He can do a lot of things for us. He's a great leader by his attitude and his effort and he shows a lot to those other kids," said Warnken, who also acknowledged the five other seniors on his roster.

It was a sparse yet stingy student section who had the last laugh Tuesday, though. The 20-plus Loyola students started the evening by asking for donations to the food bank. 

They were later treated to an 11-4 third quarter advantage by the home team that had Loyola ahead 43-32 headed into the fourth quarter.

"The love for the game; the love for our 'Ramly' out here. These are our brothers and we're just a part of that brotherhood," Loyola's Robert Griffin said. "This is the start of something great."

The final period opened up well for Loyola, too. After Corvallis' Garrett Brown scored on a put-back to pull within nine, 43-34, Lincoln pushed Loyola's lead back to double figures. The junior skyed for an offensive rebound of his own, spun and hit the return shot while absorbing a foul in the process.

He finished the 3-point play to give the Rams a 46-34 lead with 7:08 remaining. Loyola led by 10 or more the rest of the way.

"He's a great player, he finishes very well and he has great vision," Loyola senior Joey McElroy said of Lincoln. "I think he should have the hair back, though. I like the flow when he has the headband, it kind of adds a little swag to the game."

McElroy, a Montana State football commit, finished with eight rebounds, four points and a pair of big-time blocks in the first half. Fellow senior Scotty Twite splashed a trio of 3-pointers — two assisted by Lincoln — to finish with 11 points. Ryan Tirrell added nine more for Loyola (1-0 overall).

Corvallis' Ridge Albright joined Jessop in double figures, as Albight knocked down a pair of treys an finished with 10 points.

Both squads will switch to tournament-style play this weekend. The Blue Devils play Polson and Ronan Friday and Saturday, respectively, at the Western A tip-off tournament. 

On the same days Loyola will be at the Shelby tournament, where some of the Rams will be looking for a little revenge. Loyola's football team lost to Shelby in the Class B state semifinals, 28-27.

They'll look a little different than when they met on the field last month, though. For starters, they'll have Lincoln, who played soccer instead of football.

And Lincoln's look has changed a bit, too.

Kyle Houghtaling can be reached by email at kyle.houghtaling@missoulian.com or on Twitter @khotel.

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