Monday, January 06, 2014
 
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Clark Kent was in the building on Saturday night

Railers score an unimpressive win over Normal West

By Jeff Benjamin

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[January 06, 2014]  Clark Kent was in the building on Saturday night.

You remember him, don't you? The mild-mannered alter ego of Superman. The average-looking, do-just-enough reporter who made his daily rounds at the Daily Planet and whose actions prompted responses that topped out at shrugs of the shoulder and never getting a second look for the mundane items he accomplished.

That was certainly the feeling Railer Nation may have had when leaving Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium on Saturday night after the Railers were unimpressive in their 52-41 victory over Normal West. The win extended Lincoln's home winning streak to 16 and left their record unblemished at 12-0. However, the result was less than satisfying for the coaching staff.

"I'm really disappointed tonight," Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said after the game. "We play the way we do down in Collinsville and then come back home and do this. We really only had two guys show up tonight, Joey Olden and Edward Bowlby. Everybody else, I'm not sure what their mind was on."

The superhero-like dominance the Railers had on display to win the tournament down in Collinsville to end 2013 was not evident against the Wildcats (2-10). I'm not sure what their kryptonite was, but the fans who were waiting to see the Lincoln team that dominated the competition just a week ago are still waiting.

Early on, the tough pressure defense was doing its thing as turnover after turnover was converted into points. After Bowlby got the Railers on the board, Olden participated in his own layup drill for three consecutive baskets, all after Normal West turnovers. When Max Cook sank a 3-pointer  the 100th of his career  from the top of the key, the Lincoln lead was 12-3, and everything was looking like an easy night at the "Roy."

After a defensive miscue, the outside shooting of Normal West brought them back into the game quickly. Zach Breen hit two of his 3-pointers in the stretch and sank three free throws after being fouled, and quicker than a hiccup, the game was tied at 12. Bowlby put Lincoln back up 14-12, but a basket from Phil Yuncker knotted the contest at 14 at the end of the first quarter.

As the second quarter started with Normal West jumping to their first lead of the night on a Josh Robinson basket, it was evident that the play of the starters was just not sitting well with Lincoln's coach. One starter after another made their way to the bench, with Alexander hoping they could find the focus that was not being displayed on the court. All the scoring for Lincoln in the second quarter came from nonstarters. Austin Krusz tied the game at 16 with a lay-in, and after a West miss, Payton Ebleherr continued his good play with a 3-pointer from the left wing, a shot he took with no hesitation, still showing the confidence that started growing by leaps and bounds in Collinsville.

One thing the Railers were able to do over the previous four games, for the most part, was that when they had a lead, the lead continued to grow and their defense took all the energy out of any hope their opponents had to come back. Saturday night, the Wildcats played tough and hung in at every turn. A quick five points put Normal West back up 21-19. A steal by Olden ended up being the only basket of the night for Will Cook, a score that tied the game at 21 as the teams went to the locker room.

With the starters back on the court to start the second half, Yuncker continued to be problematic for the Railers as he set up camp at the free-throw line and was able to hit the open shots he was given. His first score of the second half put West up 23-21. A free throw from Bowlby and basket from Gavin Block put Lincoln up 24-23. After another Yuncker score, Olden and Tyler Horchem hit 3s to give Lincoln a little separation at 30-25. Coach Brian Cupples continued to get the ball to Yuncker, who did not disappoint as the Wildcats were hanging in at 30-27.

[to top of second column]

An old-fashioned three-point play from Bowlby, who led the squad with 17 points, pushed the lead to six, but the 3-point shooting from West continued to frustrate the Railers. Breen and Hayden Maurice were able to find the open spots and get the shots to fall as both teams traded three-point plays of one variety or another. A key offensive rebound from Ebelherr led to a 3 from Block to stretch the lead to 36-30. Bowlby completed another three-point play with eight seconds to go in the quarter after a pass from Block, but West answered again as the Lincoln lead was only three heading to the fourth at 39-36.

Maybe Normal West wore down or Lincoln finally found that gear they needed, but the fourth quarter was all Lincoln. An early 7-0 run in the first two minutes pushed the Railer lead to double digits for the first time at 46-36. After a Wildcat score, Bowlby and Block each split a pair of free throws, and an easy lay-in from Bowlby gave Lincoln a 50-38 lead. A basket from Max Cook finally put this one away, with the Railers winning by 11.

This certainly was not the best performance of the season from this Railer squad and coach Alexander is hoping his team can find that focus before their next game.

"If you're not mentally ready to play, it affects everything you do  shooting, passing, rebounding, everything," Alexander said. "Tonight, for whatever reason, we were not ready to play."

A couple of seniors led the way, with Bowlby scoring 17 and Olden adding 12. Block scored eight, with Max Cook tallying five. Horchem and Ebelherr each hit one 3 on the night, while Will Cook and Krusz scored two each.

Lincoln has two games on tap this week. First, on Friday, the Railers will play their first true road game of the season by taking on Springfield High School at Willard Duey Gymnasium. On Saturday, the Railers will welcome Jacksonville in a game that is rescheduled from the postponement earlier in the season. The Springfield game is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.

With the number of turnovers this defense has been able to generate, the squad certainly could be called the "Men of Steal." However, if we see many more Clark Kent-type performances, we might want to try to direct the Railers to a phone booth. We're going to need Superman to lift the expectations this team is creating with every win.

___

LINCOLN (52)

Bowlby 6 5-8 17, Olden 5 0-1 12, Block 3 1-2 8, M.Cook 2 0-0 5, Horchem 1 0-0 3, Ebelherr 1 0-0 3, W.Cook 1 0-0 2, Krusz 1 0-0 2, Conrady 0 0-0 0, Perry 0 0-0 0. Team 20 6-11 52. 3-point field goals 6 (Olden 2, M.Cook, Horchem, Ebelherr, Block).

NORMAL WEST (41)

Breen 15, Yuncker 9, Jones 7, Maurice 6, Robinson 4. Team 15 4-8 41. 3-point field goals 7 (Breen 4, Maurice 2, Jones).

Lincoln            14-7-18-13 52
Normal West   14-7-15-5  41

[By JEFF BENJAMIN]

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