Unfortunately, four free throws from the eventual
fourth-place finisher put another game in the "Get Smart" column.
You know, the ones where "they missed it by that much." (For those
too young to get that reference, ask your parents.)
With the 39-36
loss to Lanphier, it would end up being one of eight games the
Railers would lose by six points or less. For a team that finished
16-16, if just half of those games end up in the win column, Lincoln
is looking at their 30th 20-win season in school history.
Coming into the season, everyone knew that how the contributions
of three graduating seniors would be replaced would determine the
success, or lack of it, for the season. One of the good things
facing Lincoln coach Neil Alexander was that a number of returning
players had played considerable minutes in the previous season.
However, one key question that had to be answered was, "Were the
players who were role players last season able to be the go-to guys
Seniors Van Hook, Jordan Gesner, Austin Kirby and Jake Olson were
going to be asked to take on more responsibilities in their final
year wearing the red and green. A lower leg injury forced Kirby to
miss the first seven games, a stretch when Lincoln won only two of
the contests. Other returning players who would be expected to do
more were junior Will Podbelsek and sophomore Max Cook. Both ended
up starting at different times during the season. Of course, I'm not
sure many folks knew how important freshman Gavin Block would be
over the course of the season.
With all the ingredients coming into this season, there certainly
was talk of a "down" year for the Railers. Now, you have to
understand, a down year for Lincoln could be looked at as a decent
year for many other schools. That is the price you pay for having
the tradition that is Lincoln Railer basketball. However, a .500
finish, especially with all the team had to endure, from injuries to
close losses, should be looked at as nothing but a positive.
The season seemed to have many different parts. After winning two
of their first three games in the Thanksgiving tournament, Lincoln
would go on to lose five in a row. Those defeats included four
straight winnable games -- against Morton (lost by 2), Normal West
in overtime (1), Rochester (1) and Jacksonville (2). Those were
tough losses, as the Railers had put themselves in position to win
each of them, but when the big play needed to be made, it was their
opponent, and not Lincoln, coming up with the decisive action.
The Railers were able to right the ship before heading to
Collinsville with a 17-point decision over Taylorville. Lincoln
finished the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule at 3-6 and was
looking for the success to continue at the Schnucks Holiday Classic.
Unfortunately, their first matchup featured Belleville East and
University of Illinois recruit Malcolm Hill. Who knows? If Bruce
Weber would have had Hill this season, he might still have that
office at the Assembly Hall. Hill and his teammates easily handled
the Railers, winning by 22 points.
Based on postgame comments from coach Alexander, it was likely
the most disappointing game of the season. His frustration was
evident when he sat down to talk to us, and the margin of defeat was
the last thing on this mind. What was troubling him most was that he
felt his team did not compete during the game, and he said he would
be "looking for five guys that wanted to compete."
Message delivered, message received.
Lincoln picked up a win the next day against an overmatched
Dunlap squad, setting up a contest with Plainfield South, a team
that the Railers had beaten the year before. As frustrating as the
East game was, the Plainfield South game was exactly the opposite.
The Railers may have even surprised themselves in winning by 12 to
set up a consolation championship against conference rival Glenwood.
The game against the Titans was a war, something you would expect
from teams that see each other at least twice a year. Again, it was
one of those games the Railers had in their grasp, only to have a
controversial call go against them with under 40 seconds remaining.
That swung all the momentum to Glenwood, propelling them to a
Even though the Railers ended the calendar year at 5-8, fans
could see signs that Lincoln was playing better. The improved play
continued with a dominant defensive performance by Van Hook and his
teammates in a 42-24 drubbing of Springfield. Van Hook's 15 points
were important, but not as critical as his defense.
One of the quotes I remember most from Alexander during the
season involved his senior's effort: "Sure he scored 15 points, but
take that away and he still played a great game on defense. When was
the last time teams were afraid to come down the lane against us?"
A team that finishes at or around .500 usually has these streaks
of up and down, up and down… that's how you end up at break-even.
After the Springfield win, it was back to two more close losses to
Southeast and SHG.
Standing at 6-10, changes needed to be made, and it started with
the starting five as coach Alexander switched to the quintet who
would be his starters for the rest of the season. Using Van Hook,
Cook, Kirby, Gesner and Block certainly paid early dividends, as the
team won five of their next six, including four of five at the
Meijer Winter Classic. Their only setback: a 22-point loss to
The Railers would drop the next two to Southeast and the
above-mentioned contest to Lanphier. At 11-13, a 20-win season
seemed to be out of reach, but finishing with a winning record was
still an attainable goal. Starting with the loss to Lanphier, the
Railers may have played their best six-game stretch of the season by
winning the next three, all in convincing fashion. Victories over
Springfield (by 21), SHG (19) and Mahomet-Seymour (19) had moved the
record over .500 for the first time since Thanksgiving week. A
one-point loss to Glenwood could have gone the other way if Block's
half-court heave at the final buzzer had just a little bit more.
Again, missed it by that much.
The day after the loss to the Titans, the Railers traveled up to
Moline and put on a defensive clinic, holding the 20-win squad to
only 30 points (the same total scored the night before by Glenwood)
and came away with a four-point win. The regular season ended with a
13-point loss to Lanphier.
[to top of second column]
Going into regionals, Lincoln was at 15-15, .500 again. Only one
win was needed to guarantee a non-losing record. The first matchup
against Bloomington may have included the best half of basketball
played by Lincoln all season, taking a dominating 39-11 advantage
From there, the season balloon started leaking and it didn't
stop. Even though the Railers moved on to the regional title game by
handling Bloomington 70-46, there were some hints of a let-up, and
it carried over to the season's final contest against MacArthur.
Did Lincoln look past a nine-win MacArthur team? It wouldn't be a
surprise. Beating the Generals would send the Railers into sectional
play at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium. The closest Lincoln got to that
fact was their uniforms being worn by Lanphier in the sectional
final. MacArthur, playing like a team that had nothing to lose,
didn't. The 45-35 loss to end the season, and the playing careers of
the five seniors, was a shock, but just another one of those
up-and-down portions of the season. Unfortunately, this one was the
What will next season have in store? Well, mark your calendars
now, it's only about eight months until the first game.
Milestones, accomplishments, miscellaneous
Coach Neil Alexander
Coached in his
1000th career game (MacArthur).
Now just two wins
away from 500 wins at LCHS.
In 22 years at LCHS
(1990-1991 through 2011-2012) has still had only one season
This marks the first time that LCHS has
gone back-to-back years without a regional title under coach
The Class of 2011-2012
Finished with 98
wins, 10th-most for a senior class in LCHS history.
No player joined the 400-point club.
Last time that happened was the 2007-2008 season.
Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium
- Passed 2,500 games in the history of LCHS basketball.
Other miscellaneous stats
Railers were 0-14
in games they trailed at the end of the first quarter; 16-2
ahead or tied.
Best day of the
week was Saturday; finished 7-3. Worst day? Friday at 4-9.
With two or more
players in double figures, LCHS was 10-5; one or less, 6-11.
If the opponent scored 50 or more,
Lincoln was 1-7; under 50, 15-9.
Christian Van Hook
- Scored 22 points in 47 games (0.46 average).
So, the team is losing almost 1,400 career points and 222 career
3-pointers. How will that all be replaced? We find out starting the
Monday before Thanksgiving. See you then!!
[By JEFF BENJAMIN]
Jeff Benjamin's Railer basketball articles