Using a barrage of first-quarter
3-pointers and a suffocating defense, the Railers dominated their
contest against McCluer North 71-40 and will now take on Belleville
East in the semifinals on Saturday.
Coming into Friday's game, the Railers (9-0) were hoping to put
forth an effort that somewhat resembled their opening-day win over
Granite City. If possible, it was that and more as Lincoln used a
22-6 run to start the game on the strength of six 3-pointers, five
from Edward Bowlby, to put the game out of reach very early.
Lincoln has played their two best games of the season during the
first two days of the tournament, but will need to continue that
play if they hope to bring home the title from Collinsville.
Coach Neil Alexander was pleased with the efforts on both ends of
the court, especially the defense.
"Coming into this week, some media down here was saying our
defensive average would be put to the test," Alexander said after
the game. "The guys took that and played with a chip on their
shoulder today, wanting to prove something."
Prove it, they did. The Railers scored 29 points off 18 turnovers
and held the Stars (7-3) to single-digit scoring in the first and
second quarters. Things have been going so well early on in games
that the Railers scored more points in the first quarter on Thursday
(16) than the defense has allowed in the combined first halves on
both games (14). On Thursday, the Stars put four players in double
figures, but on Friday, the Railers allowed only one player to score
over 10 points.
I'm beginning to think we may run out of things to say to
describe just how well this team is playing on defense. However, as
well as they have been playing, it won't help them on Saturday.
"We'll go back to the hotel and then forget about this one,"
Alexander said. "We just have to worry about what is in front of us,
and that is a tough Belleville East team. It will be a challenge."
OK, so we've bragged on the defense. What about the offense? Yep,
plenty of things there as well. The Railers shot 66 percent for the
game, including 79 percent in the second half and 50 for the contest
from 3-point range. Lincoln assisted on 19 of the 29 made baskets,
including another game-high nine assists from Max Cook for the
second day in a row. But the highlight was ball movement. How much
of a highlight?
"In my 38 years of coaching," a very pleased coach Alexander
said, "there was glimpses of some of the best ball movement I've
ever seen. Seven to eight passes, all ending up in a score."
One particular offensive possession in the second quarter had
bullet passes, crisscrossing the McCluer North defense to the point
of the Stars looking to catch up to one pass while the ball was
already in flight three passes later. The concept made you think of
the game of hot potato. Not sure anyone held the ball for more than
a second before it was on the way to the next Railer. It was truly a
thing of beauty, so much so that after the possession ended on a
Joey Olden layup, it was not only Railer Nation that came to its
feet to show their appreciation for the play. There may have been
more, but I personally saw fans who were wearing clothing from
Belleville East, Collinsville and Triad applauding and shaking their
heads in wonderment.
The teams started the game with Lincoln trading 3s for 2s to take
a 9-6 lead. Bowlby, who connected for a career-high 23 points, hit
three in a row from 3-point range to move the lead to 18-6. After a
timeout, the Stars realized it would be necessary to get out on
Lincoln's shooters. The effectiveness of long-range shooting paid
off as Lincoln began heading to the basket, thanks to the
aggressiveness of the defense. Layups from Gavin Block and Olden
pushed the lead to 22-6.
[to top of second column]
Olden's 3 was followed by a McCluer basket to make the score
25-9. Again, the early 3s resulted in easy 2s as Olden scored on
two easy layups sandwiched around a driving finger roll from
Cook. A three-point play from Will Cook sent the Railers to the
halftime break up 36-12.
The second half started the same way the first did. Olden hit
from 3 en route to a second day in a row when he registered a career
best with 15 points. The senior, referred to by coach Alexander as
"the key of our defense," was rewarded for that play after forcing a
turnover and getting the ball back to hit on his third 3 of the
night to get the Railer lead to 32 at 45-13.
The best stretch the Stars could put together was a 7-0 run that
got them as close as 29 (53-24). Payton Ebelherr scored a quick four
on a layup, then got a steal and another layup, all within about
five seconds late in the third quarter.
Up 32 to start the fourth, the Railers put the game in running
clock or mercy rule mode (up 30 or more in the fourth quarter),
meaning the clock would only stop for timeouts. When that happens,
it's rather obvious the game is over. That did not stop Bowlby from
having great bookend quarters. His 15 in the first quarter was
matched up with eight in the fourth, the last two points notching
his career best, just before checking out. As the buzzer sounded at
Vergil Fletcher Gymnasium, the 71-40 final proved this team can play
defense, something some in the St. Louis area did not think was
That opinion may have changed. I'm sure the Stars would be
changing their vote.
Two career highs from Bowlby (23) and Olden (15) led the way for
Lincoln. Block finished with 14 points and a team-high eight
rebounds. Max Cook tallied seven points with five rebounds. Ebelherr
scored four, and Tyler Horchem hit a 3-pointer for his only score.
Will Cook contributed three, and Adam Conrady knocked down one shot
for two points.
It's on to the tournament's final four and a 1 p.m. matchup with
No. 4 seed Belleville East. The Lancers came from behind in the
third quarter to knock off Oakville. If the Railers can win, they
will advance to Saturday night's championship game at 8. A loss
Saturday afternoon would put them in a 6:30 p.m. third-place game.
Bowlby 9-12 0-0 23, Olden 6-8 0-0 15, Block 6-10 1-2 14, M.Cook
3-5 0-0 7, Ebelherr 2-2 0-0 4, Horchem 1-3 0-0 3, W.Cook 1-1 1-1 3,
Conrady 1-2 0-0 2, Krusz 0-0 0-0 0, Dunovsky 0-1 0-0 0, Perry 0-0
0-0 0. Team 29-44 2-3 71. 3-point field goals 11-22 (Bowlby 5-8,
Olden 3-4, M.Cook 1-3, Horchem 1-3, Block 1-4).
McCLUER NORTH (40)
Lindsey 15, Moore 6, Jackson 6, Holland 3, Dunlap 3, Morris 3,
Owens 2, Ballard 2. Team 14-33 7-9 40. 3-point field goals 5-13
(Moore 2, Lindsey, Morris, Dunlap).
McCluer North 7-5-15-13 40
[By JEFF BENJAMIN]
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