Well, with defense leading the way, this is exactly the kind of
bounce the Railers need if they plan a long stay in this year's
tournament. The top-seeded Lincoln squad pitched their first shutout
quarter of the season in route to a 49-28 decision over Normal
U-High at the Robert Frank Sports Complex at Bloomington High
The victory advances the Railers to Friday night's regional
title game, where they will square off against either Mahomet-Seymour
Coach Neil Alexander is always talking about that "perfect 32
minutes" of basketball. The first eight on Tuesday night, especially
on the defensive end, may have been as perfect as possible. Besting
their previous low quarter (2 on three occasions), Lincoln (27-4) held
the Pioneers to only three shots, with two coming on the same
possession. While holding U-High scoreless, the offense was
After a steal and pass to Alex Anderson resulted in the first Railer points, Kyle Young added a layup and Louie Schonauer
hit his only 3 of the night for the seven for the Railers.
However, the story was the defense.
It seemed as though Lincoln had six or seven players on defense,
as each Pioneer pass seemed to reach its intended target after the
nearest Railer defender was already in position. Traps were tight,
hands were active, focus was intense, and from our view in the
balcony, it was pure joy to watch this defense completely handcuff
Things evened up a little bit in the second quarter. After a layup
from Nathaniel Smith, which looked strangely familiar to the
thought-to-be game winner from Friday night, Normal U-High finally
gave their fans cause to cheer at the 6:32 mark with their first
basket, making the score 9-2. Lincoln then scored the next 10 to
stretch their run to open the game to 19-2. A layup from Kyle Frick
was followed by a steal and layup from Jordan Nelson. The sophomore was fouled on the shot but missed his free
throw. Alex Anderson hit a 3 during the run as well.
majority of U-High's scoring came from Connor Brown. Brown, the
leading scorer in their Monday victory over Rantoul, hit two from
long range for six of their 10 first-half points. At the time, the
Railers' biggest lead of 17 had been cut to 11 at 21-10.
To begin the third quarter, a quick score from the Railers on the
"errant oop" from Louie Schonauer to Kyle Young was followed up by
the first of three 3s from Connor Brown, cutting the lead to
10. It marked the closest U-High (10-18) would get for the rest of
the game. Brown's points did come in threes. Along with his nine
points on 3-pointers, he also converted three free throws after
being fouled behind the arc.
Lincoln used precision interior passing to find open shots to slowly
extend their lead. The key offensive play for Lincoln in the quarter
was to get it to Ben Brackney. The junior hit four 3s to score
12 of the 20 Railer points in the period. Brackney hit from out high
as well as the corner. By the end of the quarter, the contest was
really no longer in doubt as Lincoln led 41-24.
The fourth quarter was not as much as an offensive struggle for
U-High as the first, but it wasn't pretty. Lincoln's defense again
held the Pioneers to no field goals and only four free throws.
Lincoln scored only eight, but again the game was pretty much
decided by this time.
It was not a perfect game but a good start to the tournament run.
Things will be tougher on Friday against either Mahomet-Seymour or,
possibly, the host team, Bloomington.
The Railers were led by Ben Brackney and Kyle Young, both with 13.
Alex Anderson added eight while Jordan Nelson had seven. Louie Schonauer and
Kyle Frick each had three, while Nathaniel Smith added two on a layup.
[to top of second column]
Coach Alexander was pleased with the win as the Railers went away
from some of their normal offensive sets. "We only ran one set
tonight. We didn't want to give away too much as Mahomet and
Bloomington were here scouting," Alexander said. "I thought our kids
did a nice job running the continuity and getting good looks and
getting to the basket."
An area that, as Alexander stated, "was discussed in the
locker room" is the recent struggles from the free-throw line for
Lincoln. On the night, the Railers were only 3-of-9 and, over the
last two games, are shooting just 45 percent (9-of-20) from the line.
In a 21-point game, it may be easy to gloss over. However, rest
assured the coaching staff knows it and realizes the team could be
one bad free-throw night from watching their season come to a sudden
stop. If the Railers have a lead late in a game, it's hard to
imagine opponents feeling confident in fouling Lincoln and sending
them to the line. However, their current difficulties make that a
Lincoln will be in action on Friday night in the regional final at
Bloomington High School. Their opponent will be either
Mahomet-Seymour or Bloomington. Those two will play Wednesday night.
The contest is scheduled to tip at 7:30 p.m. and, as always, you can
catch the game on WLCN-FM 96.3 and here at
LINCOLN (49) --
Brackney 4 1-2 13, Young 6 1-2 13, Anderson 3 0-0 8, Nelson 3 0-1 7,
Schonauer 1 0-0 3, Frick 1 1-4 3, Smith 1 0-0 2, Neece 0 0-0 0,
Turner 0 0-0 0, Coyne 0 0-0 0. Team 19 3-9 49.
3-Point FG: Team 8 (Brackney
4, Anderson 2, Nelson, Schonauer).
Normal U-High (28) --
Brown 18, Harbers 5, Robb 2, English 2, Styczynski 1.
End of first quarter -- LCHS 7, Normal U-High 0
Halftime -- LCHS 21, Normal U-High 10
End of third quarter -- LCHS 41, Normal U-High 24
- Three Railers advanced to the next round of the 3-point
showdown: Nathaniel Smith, Brant Coyne and Cameron Turner. The trio
will shoot before Friday night's contest for a chance to move on to
the next round.
[Special report by JEFF BENJAMIN]