Saturday, November 28, 2009
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Railers edge Althoff in match of unbeatens

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[November 28, 2009]  If you like your drama served with a side of pumpkin pie, then Roy S. Anderson gymnasium was the place to be the night after Thanksgiving, as two of the top three teams in the state in Class 3A squared off in an early season preview of a possible matchup at the Collinsville tournament, and possibly on the road to Peoria in March.

Heart rates and blood pressures were going up and down like the stock market, especially in the final seven and a half seconds of Lincoln's dramatic 53-50 win over Belleville Althoff. With the game tied at 50, Lincoln junior guard Jordan Nelson stepped to the line and hit one of two free throws to give the Railers a one-point advantage. Althoff came down, missing a shot to take the lead, but grabbing the rebound. However, Nelson reached in, forcing a held ball, with alternating possession giving the ball to Lincoln with less than eight seconds to go. All the Railers had to do was get the ball in bounds, probably make some free throws, play some good defense and get the victory. Things were looking good. 

Unfortunately, a miscommunication on the inbounds pass gave the ball back to the Crusaders with no time running off the clock. Junior Nathaniel Smith, throwing in while standing in front of the Althoff bench, threw back toward the Althoff basket, toward Nelson. The pass was over and out of the reach of Nelson, and the Crusaders were still alive, while the gasp inside the gym from the Railer Nation was that feeling of "uh-oh, here we go again." Lincoln coach Neil Alexander did not see the fault in Smith's pass. "We stopped picking.  We just ran to our spots," Alexander said.

Crusader coach Greg Leib called timeout to set up what he hoped would be the culmination of a comeback from down as much as 11. Still with seven and a half seconds on the clock, Althoff threw the ball into the lane, intending it for the 6-foot-9 John Harms. Harms, while backing into the lane, was unable to get the ball on a pass that would have been better delivered on a line to the wide-open Carson Sonnenberg.

With the ball up for grabs, senior Ben Brackney played off Harms enough to disrupt Sonnenberg's attempt at the ball. Brackney corralled the ball on the baseline and had his legs taken out from under him as Sonnenberg, who fouled out on the play, tried to make the steal back for Althoff.

Brackney stepped to the line, needing to show the composure that allowed him and Nelson to score the Railers' final 17 points. Brackney, who finished the game with 18 points, hit both free throws to extend the Lincoln lead to 53-50. Over?  Not yet.

Althoff's David Franklin, who had hurt the Railers earlier in the game with his outside shooting, got a clean look from about 25 feet, coming up short, and finally, the Railers and their fans could breathe a huge sigh of relief. Not bad for only seven and a half seconds.

Althoff (2-1) scored the game's first basket, but the Railers ran off 10 in a row including 3s from Cameron Turner and Nelson. The game stayed close throughout, with Lincoln (3-0) holding a 24-22 lead at the half.

Althoff's star Sonnenberg was held to only six points in the contest, just four in the first two quarters. The final big push by the Railers, a 12-3 run to start the third quarter, put the hosts up by 11.

By the end of the third quarter, Lincoln was up by 10, but there was still a feeling of uneasiness, knowing this Althoff team was good and they were not going to just go away.

Those fears were realized when the Crusaders scored a quick five points to begin the final quarter, cutting the lead to 42-37. Slowly, Althoff's physical strength, along with possible fatigue by the Railers, began to allow Althoff to creep back into the game. After two free throws from Nelson put Lincoln up 50-47, a Crusader 3 tied the game at 50 and set the stage for the night's dramatics. 

Lincoln was led in scoring again by Nelson. The junior finished with 24 points, including five 3s. Brackney had 18 points and, along with Brant Coyne, led the team in rebounds with seven. Turner, playing his best game of the season so far, finished with five. Despite making the ill-advised inbounds pass at the end, Smith played a solid game, chipping in with four points and five assists. The other points of the night came from a Coyne drive to the basket.

Neither team shot the ball well (Lincoln 38 percent, Althoff 35). Good defense was played, but not many turnovers were forced. Lincoln shot just well enough from the free-throw line (12-18) to pull this one out. This contest, from opening tip to that final miss from Althoff, had all the makings of a game you might see in March. Two evenly matched teams, battling it out, and on this night the red-clad Railers came out on top.  

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Other scores from Friday night saw Danville defeat Rochester 88-40, and Champaign Centennial, behind Rayvonte Rice's 41 points, escaped Cahokia 70-58. 

The standings through Friday night are as follows: Lincoln 3-0, Champaign Centennial 3-0, Belleville Althoff 2-1, Danville 1-2, Cahokia 0-3, Rochester 0-3. 

The Railers continue on the final day of the Eaton Electrical Round Robin Tournament with two on Saturday: an 11:30 matchup with Rochester and, what could be for the tournament title, an 8:30 battle with defending state champion Champaign Centennial. 

Of course, Centennial's day starts with a contest against Althoff at 1 p.m. You are reminded to look for the wrap-up of the weekend action on Monday here on



Nelson 7-14, 5-7 24, Brackney 6-17 6-8 18, Turner 2-4 0-0 5, Smith 1-4 1-2 4, Coyne 1-4 0-1 2, Bowlby 0-1 0-0 0, Kirby 0-1 0-0 0.  Team 17-45 12-18 53.
3-point field goals 7-22 (Nelson 5-10, Smith 1-2, Turner 1-3, Brackney 0-5, Coyne 0-1, Kirby 0-1).
Rebounds 25 (Brackney, Coyne 7), assists 9 (Smith 5), steals 6 (Nelson, Brackney 2), turnovers 7. 

Belleville Althoff (50) 

Franklin 14, Harms 14, Sonnenberg 6, Fink 5, Griffin 5, Hanger 3, Mumphard 3. Team 18-51 9-11 50.
3-point field goals 5-18.
Rebounds 41, assists 10, steals 2, turnovers 12. 

End of first quarter: Lincoln 15, Althoff 9
Halftime: Lincoln 24, Althoff 22
End of third quarter: Lincoln 42, Althoff 32 

Other notes: 

  • Jordan Nelson continues to climb the all-time list of 3s made. It seems Nelson jumps a spot or two each game. After Friday night's contest, he is tied with Cory Farmer for fifth all-time with 142. Next up, current assistant coach John Harmsen. He stands in fourth with 185 during his Railer career.

  • They will certainly sleep well on Sunday.  The trio of Jordan Nelson, Ben Brackney, and Nathaniel Smith have combined to play over 283 minutes out of a possible 288.  They all played the full 32 minutes against Danville and Althoff.

  • The win was No. 591 for coach Neil Alexander (591-317), No. 432 at Lincoln (432-142).

  • Love that home cooking. While playing at Roy S. Anderson, the Railers are now 514-143.

  • The oddity of the night occurred in the Centennial-Cahokia game when the ball became lodged on top of the backboard support. After it was retrieved, the next possession on the other end of the court -- you guessed it -- the same thing happened.  A Centennial player tried using another ball to knock it free but missed on three attempts. He then gave it to Rayvonte Rice, who easily freed it on his first attempt.  I suppose when you score 41 points, you don't miss much, no matter what it is.

  • When you're at the game, please remember to visit the concession stands. The band boosters do a great job with it every game night.

[Special report by JEFF BENJAMIN]

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