In their first meeting in Lincoln this season, Springfield found
themselves down early, only to come roaring back to take the lead.
In that Jan. 29 contest, the home team was down four at the
half, only to see that lead disappear early in the third quarter.
Friday night proved no different in those respects and, in the
end, the result was the same, as the Railers survived the Senators
52-45 to claim a share of this season's Central State Eight
Conference championship. With Southeast's 14-point win over
Jacksonville, the Railers and Spartans both finished at 12-2 on the
It seemed the game would go down to the wire until Springfield was
whistled for an intentional foul on Lincoln junior Jordan Nelson
with 43 seconds to go and down 47-42. Nelson made one of the free
throws and, with Lincoln getting possession, ended up hitting two
more free throws.
Of course, all of Railer Nation knows about Nelson's 3-point
shooting ability. However, Nelson and his teammates will most likely
be talking about his final two points of the game, a tip dunk in the
waning seconds of the contest. Some think it may have been on the
rim, but it counts in the scorebook so I'm going with a dunk that
had his teammates jumping in excitement on the sidelines.
If you judge a shooter by his pregame warmups, then you would have
been really worried about Nelson. Nelson, moving around the
perimeter in pregame, couldn't hit at his usual success rate. I
guess that's why it doesn't matter until tip-off.
Nelson hit his
first 3 from long range and scored 11 in the opening quarter,
helping push the Railers to an early 13-point lead late in the first
quarter. The Railers scored the first nine of the game, while
Springfield did not get on the board until two Willie Wiley free
It was another five in a row before Bryan Bridges scored the
first field goal of the game for the Senators, making the score 14-4.
Nelson connected on his third 3 to stretch the game to 17-4, and
things in Railer Nation were looking very good.
As coach Neil Alexander said, they (Springfield) "are a very good
team, and we knew they were going to make a run -- not if, but when."
Make a run they did. The Senators scored the last four of the
first quarter and the first basket of the second to pull within
17-10. Five more from Nelson got Lincoln (26-3) back up by nine at
22-13, while Cameron Turner connected from the left corner for his
first 3 in some time.
Turner's shot was big at the time as the Lincoln lead went back
to double digits at 25-15. But as halftime approached, Springfield
(20-7) began their run. Wiley and Bridges inside caused Lincoln
difficulty in the paint, as did the outside shooting of Alex Kramer.
Kramer's two 3s in the quarter helped Springfield run off
nine in a row to cut the Lincoln lead to 25-24. The final scoring of
the quarter came from Austin Kirby, who connected for his only 3
of the night, and the Railers went to the locker room up four, 28-24.
Springfield's defense was able to hold Lincoln's second-leading
scorer, Ben Brackney, to only one field goal in the first half.
It didn't take long for the senior night crowd at Duey Gymnasium to
reach a fever pitch as the Senators scored the first five of the
second half to take their first lead of the night at 29-28.
For much of the third quarter, this game was like a classic
heavyweight fight, back and forth, first one team, then the other.
Brackney hit a 3 from the right side to give the Railers the
lead back at 31-29, but that was quickly answered by Isiah Hale, and
the Senators grabbed back the one-point advantage.
A basket and
two free throws by junior Nathaniel Smith put Lincoln back up 35-32,
but six in a row by the Senators early into the fourth quarter gave
Springfield a 38-35 cushion.
As good as this game was, this, however, was the last lead for
Springfield. Brackney's only basket of the fourth tied the game at
38. Nelson made another from long range to give the Railers the lead
for good at 41-38. After a Springfield basket cut the lead to one
again at 41-40, the Railers went on an 11-5 run to end the game.
[to top of second column]
The fourth quarter ended up being Springfield getting good looks
at the basket but having their shots not fall, while Lincoln made
just enough free throws to hang on for the win. For the second game
in a row, the free-throw shooting from Lincoln was
At Moline, Lincoln finished 7 of 12, while Friday night, only 11
of the 18 attempts were made. Not what we have come to expect from a
team that shoots almost 80 percent from the line.
This was a grinder game. The butterflies did not go away until late
in the game. However, this was a good game for a team heading into
regional play next week. If this team is to go far, there will be a
lot more games like this: close games where free throws and defense
will make the difference.
So far in the regular season, this team has taken us on quite
a ride. Now the ride gets tricky. One misstep and the season will end.
That is the beauty and pain of the state tournament. At the end of
the year, only one team is really happy. Last season, that was
Champaign Centennial. If the Railers are to be that team this year,
somewhere down the line, that Charger team could be waiting to trip
Lincoln was led by Nelson's game-high 25 points, with Brackney
ending with 11 and Nathaniel Smith joining in double figures with
10. Turner and Kirby each added three, while Brant Coyne was held
scoreless but made some key defensive plays along with grabbing
Next up for Lincoln, the first game of the IHSA regional at Mount
Zion. The Railers will take the floor for Tuesday's game against Mount
Zion at 7:30. If they win, they will play for the regional
championship on Friday night against either Decatur MacArthur or
Like last year, make sure to visit
www.lincolndailynews.com to not
only follow the Railers, but each day we'll have the latest scores
from the teams and games that could affect the Railers' road to
Nelson 8 4-6 25, Brackney 3 3-4 11, Smith 3 4-6 10, Kirby 1 0-2 3,
Turner 1 0-0 3, Coyne 0 0-0 0. Team 16 11-18 52. 3-point field goals
9 (Nelson 5, Brackney 2, Kirby, Turner).
Bridges 18, Hale 13, Wiley 8, Kramer 6. Team 19 2-2 45. 3-point
field goals 5 (Hale 3, Kramer 2).
The game was No. 600 for
coach Neil Alexander at Lincoln. In that
time, he is 455-145.
Friday night's game was Ben Brackney's 100th career game.
Jordan Nelson's 25 points moves him into 10th all-time with 1,242,
passing Joe Cook. Next on the list at No. 9 is Brian Cook with
1,281. Nelson is now 12th all-time in season scoring with 555
points, five points behind Brandon Farmer in 2006-07.
Brackney is moving up the list as well. He is now
passing Larry Lessen. Brackney is now 51 points behind Joe Cook in
With their nine 3s on Friday night, the
Railers are 19-1 when they
make seven or more 3s in a game. They are now also just 46
3s behind their state record of 286.
Monday, March 1
At Danville -- (4) Urbana vs. (5) Rantoul
At Pontiac -- (4) Pontiac vs. (5) Kankakee
At Jacksonville -- (4) Jacksonville vs. (5) Springfield SHG
[Special report by JEFF BENJAMIN]