Saturday, February 07, 2009
Sports NewsMayfield's Mutterings: Illini progress report

Railers edge Springfield 43-40

By Jeff Benjamin

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[February 07, 2009]  SPRINGFIELD -- Back on Jan. 6, Lincolnite Jeff Nelson was manning the PA microphone at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium as the Railers took on Springfield. As Derek Wilkerson's shot at the buzzer missed the mark, Nelson announced to the crowd, "Lincoln survives 34-32." Well, it's unfortunate that Nelson was on the other side of Duey Gymnasium from our broadcast position tonight. As Troy Klunick's 3 from the corner bounced off the back of the rim as time expired, it would have been more than appropriate for Nelson to tell us, "Lincoln survives Springfield again 43-40."

For the second Friday night in a row in our capital city, the Railers could not comfortably handle fourth-quarter prosperity. Playing with a slim lead, it seemed every time Lincoln could force the Senators into a turnover or bad shot, coach Neil Alexander's squad would give it right back with a turnover or forced shot of their own.

In the closing minutes, Lincoln (21-3, 10-1) turned the ball over six times and could not stretch the lead to more than five. However, unlike the final Friday in January, the Railers stepped to the line and converted free throws. On a night when each and every one of them was needed, Lincoln hit 20 of 24 from the line, including 12 of 13 in the second half.

It will be the final play of the game that will be talked about, a play that conceivably should have never happened. Leading 41-38, sophomore Nathaniel Smith stepped to the line and hit both free throws to give the Railers a five-point advantage. Springfield scored their final points, cutting the lead to 43-40, with about five seconds remaining on the clock, a clock that for just a moment was stopped and started again.


As Lincoln tried to inbound the basketball, a bad pass gave the ball back to the Senators with 1.8 seconds remaining. It appeared Lincoln did not need to inbound the ball because the clock would have expired before the five-second violation was called. However, it was, but now the concern was how much time should be on the clock, as the Senators certainly got a break from the clock operator.

As the officials huddled, my broadcast partner and former official, Tom Larey, said that even though they may know less time should be on the clock, if they don't know 100 percent for sure how much, then they can't make a change. One of the officials had the unenviable task of relaying the message to a frustrated coach Alexander. It was obvious he heard the explanation, but he certainly did not like it.

Once it was all settled, Lincoln's defense was set up to allow anyone and everyone in the lane, because the two points would change the margin, but not the outcome. However, as the scramble ensued to get the ball in, Tyler Klunick was able to find an opening in the left corner and fire off a 3. The junior had a clean look, but the ball bounced high off the back of the rim as time expired and Lincoln breathed a sigh of relief.


So, the Railers get the win and all is well, right? Not really. In our postgame interview, coach Alexander conveyed his frustration with a team that continues to teeter in the closing minutes of tight games. "We did not deserve to win that basketball game," Alexander said. "If nothing else, we should still be playing." Alexander confirmed the final play defense called for the Railers to allow "all five guys in the lane if they wanted; just don't give up the 3."

The contest did not start like the Railers wanted, allowing Springfield (12-11, 4-6) to jump out to an early 7-0 lead. A jumper from Ben Brackney broke the scoring drought for the Railers, beginning an 8-0 run that put Lincoln up for the first time. Even though the Railers took a one-point advantage into halftime (they also had a one-point lead in the earlier game at Lincoln), it certainly was not because of their shooting from the field. Lincoln was held to only one field goal in the second quarter, but a 7-for-8 performance from the line gave the Railers an 18-17 lead at intermission.

After Springfield scored the first three points in the third, the Railers finally found a way to dial long range, as sophomore Jordan Nelson hit two in a row from beyond the arc and senior Louie Schonauer's 3 gave Lincoln the lead for good at 27-24.

The biggest play of the game may have occurred at the 3:17 mark of the fourth quarter, when Ben Brackney drove to the basket, hit the layup and was fouled by Springfield's Ben Mathis, his fifth. Brackney's free throw completed the three-point play to give Lincoln a 36-30 lead. It also took away one of Springfield's key offensive weapons, as Mathis, along with 6-foot-3, 250-pound Kendall Murdock, proved to be a formidable duo down low -- one the Railers had difficulty stopping. The absence of Mathis allowed the Railer defense to key on Murdock inside and give a little more help to the perimeter.

Lincoln was led in scoring, for the second game in a row, by Ben Brackney. Brackney finished with 12 points, six in each half. Jordan Nelson joined Brackney in double figures with 10, while Louis Schonauer chipped in with nine. The Railers' leading scorer, Kyle Young, was held to seven points, and Nathaniel Smith hit all four of his free throws. Kyle Frick closed out the scoring column hitting one free throw. Wes Neece and Alex Anderson played but did not score.

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The game was not one for the faint of heart, and it certainly must have been an interesting locker room after the game. The contest goes in the win column, but the looks on the faces getting ready to board the bus back to Lincoln gave the appearance of a loss. Had this been a game in early December, maybe some of the miscues could be categorized as fixable.

However, the end of the regular season is three weeks away, and it's time for the team to be playing at, or near, its best. The search for the full 32-minute game from this team seems to be as daunting as the search for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Let's hope this search proves more productive than those.

The Lincoln JV fell short in the opener, dropping a 49-45 decision to Springfield.

Lincoln will be in action again on Saturday as they travel north to Normal to take on the Wildcats from Normal West. The contest is scheduled to tip around 7:30 p.m. and, as always, you can catch the game on WLCN-FM 96.3 and here at


LINCOLN (43) -- Brackney 3 6-7 12, Nelson 3 2-2 10, Schonauer 2 4-4 9, Young 2 3-5 7, Smith 0 4-4 4, Frick 0 1-2 1, Neece 0 0-0 0, Anderson 0 0-0 0. Team 10 20-24 43.
3-point FG: team 3 (Nelson 2, Schonauer).

Springfield (40) -- Hale 14, Mathis 8, Gilchrese 6, Murdock 5, Wilkerson 4, Burnett 3.

End of first quarter -- Springfield 10, LCHS 9
Halftime -- LCHS 18, Springfield 17
End of third quarter -- LCHS 31, Springfield 26

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Other notes:

  • The 10 field goals by the Railers matches a season low (the other was Jan. 6 against, yep, Springfield).

  • The Railers did set a season low by hitting only three 3-pointers.

  • Jordan Nelson has now moved into 11th place on the all-time list of 3-pointers made. Nelson has 102 and is only four behind Adam Osborn for 10th.

  • This is the ninth time the Railers have held an opponent to 40 points or less.

  • The magic number may be 56. In games in which the Railers have held their opponents to 56 points or less, they are 20-0. In games at 57 or more, Lincoln is 1-3.

  • Kudos to the fans who traveled to the contest, both from Lincoln and Springfield. The atmosphere was what a high school game should be, not like last Friday when the "expected sellout" never materialized.

[Special report by JEFF BENJAMIN]

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