[January 13, 2014]A double-double from junior
Gavin Block and clutch free throw shooting from senior Max Cook
helped the Lincoln Railers remain perfect on the season with a 56-40
conference win over Jacksonville on Saturday night. The win now sets
up a battle of state-ranked and conference unbeatens when the
Railers head to Springfield on Friday night to take on No. 1
But, as Lincoln coach Neil Alexander will remind you, it's one game
at a time. The Railers wouldn't be able to do anything on Saturday
night against the Crimsons that would give them any advantage over
As has been the case lately, defense got the Railers
going. On the Crimsons' first possession, Joey Olden stole the ball
and drove in for the game's first points. What has not been a usual
sight is the Railers trailing on the scoreboard. Entering Saturday
night's contest, Lincoln had trailed in only six games this season
and not by more than seven points. That was in the season opener
against Centennial. So, when Jacksonville (4-9, 0-4) got 3s from
Nick Kaufmann and Tyler Ring giving the visitors a 6-2 lead, the
Railers were in need of a wake-up call.
Not sure how many woke up, but Block must have been the one to
answer the phone. The junior was perfect on four 3-pointers en route
to 14 of Lincoln's 18 first-quarter points. His scoring was part of
a 16-3 run that gave Lincoln an 18-9 lead at the end of the first
quarter. Along with crediting Block for his shooting, his teammates
knew who had the hot hand and did what they needed to in order to
get it to him.
Block continued his fast start by splitting a pair of free
throws, giving him 15 of Lincoln's first 19 points. By now, if you
were rooting for Jacksonville, you were probably wondering why No.
22 was not being guarded. The Crimsons must have finally gotten the
message as Block was held scoreless the rest of the half. The other
issue Lincoln was facing was the point man on their defense, Olden,
on the bench with foul trouble. That combination proved the right
mixture for Jacksonville to get back in the game.
The Railers (14-0, 4-0) went back up by 10 on a layup by Payton
Ebelherr, who hit an extra gear to fill the right lane and be in the
right spot to receive one of Max Cook's seven assists. However, as
has happened over the last three games, Lincoln could not put their
opponent away early. Too much indecision on shots, or taking quick
shots after just one pass in the offense, gave the Crimsons what
they needed to stay close. A 5-0 run late in the quarter brought the
game to just a six-point spread at 24-18. Tyler Horchem, who is
starting to come around to the long-range shooting Railer Nation
witnessed last season, hit the first of his three 3s on the night to
stop the run.
After a Jacksonville basket, the Railers were unable to convert
on their final possession, giving Jacksonville one final shot. Ring
attempted to launch a shot just inside half court. He was fouled,
although the officials determined it was a common foul and Ring
would go to the line shooting one and bonus, not three free throws,
and one second would be put back on the clock. Not sure if it was
the confusion over thinking no time was left on the clock or the
frustration in watching how the first half ended, but Ring's free
throw was shot with coach Alexander already in the Lincoln locker
room. It was a seven-point lead for the Railers, up 27-20.
If someone wanted to give a pictorial description of the third
quarter, it would be a teeter-totter. Back and forth, back and forth
the game went, with no team scoring back-to-back points until the
very end of the quarter, when Jacksonville accomplished the feat.
Lincoln would score on a Block follow on an offensive rebound, and
the Crimsons would come back and score. Horchem hit two more 3s,
only to see Jacksonville score after each one. The margin throughout
the whole quarter went from seven to 11 points.
The most important basket of the quarter may have been a
3-pointer from Max Cook, making the score 40-29. To Railer fans, the
lead was back to 11. To coach Alexander, it was a shift to scoring
mode for one of his leaders.
"We need Max to be an offensive threat," Alexander explained. "I
think he missed his first shot of the game and then didn't take
another one the rest of the half. He has to look to score for us to
Cook came up big in the fourth quarter from the free-throw line,
an area the rest of the squad had trouble with. After Cook hit
another 3 to start the final quarter and a Jacksonville score put
the game at 43-35, Edward Bowlby, the team's leading scorer on the
season, missed a pair of free throws. Those misses extended
Lincoln's streak to five in a row and left them 4 of 11 for game. In
a game that was getting closer, those free throws were looming
larger and larger.
After Block, who finished with 10 rebounds, hit his fifth and
final 3 of the night to push the lead back to double digits, the
rest of the night belonged to Cook. The senior scored 10 of his 16
points, all in the second half, in the final 1:38, including a
perfect 8 of 8 from the line and a layup off a steal from Olden to
finish the scoring and give Lincoln the 16-point win.
Alexander was complimentary of the opponents, knowing that
the Railers will get everyone's best shot, especially now that
the state ranking is on the line.
"They (Jacksonville) did two things that really give us trouble.
They get the ball in the middle of our zone and they were able to
dribble drive," Alexander said. "We did nothing to stop their
dribble drive and that got them a lot of opportunities."
Two players in double figures led the way, with Block and Cook
combining for 36 points. Horchem finished with nine points, with
Bowlby scoring seven and Olden and Ebelherr adding two.
So, now, let the hype begin. No. 1 Lanphier against No. 3 Lincoln
in what could be the first of three games this year between the two.
Both will come in undefeated with veterans on both sides. Lanphier
is led by Larry Austin Jr., who is heading to Tennessee, and
sophomore outside shooter Xavier Bishop. The contest is scheduled to
start at 7:30, sophomores at 6 p.m., and will be at Lanphier's
Lober-Nika Gymnasium, which will be PACKED.
I don't think I can encourage Railer fans enough that if you are
planning to go to the game, arrive early. The folks at Lober-Nika
have said that when the game is sold out, it is sold out. No more
tickets. You have to believe the Lions' fans will try their best to
take as many seats as possible to diminish the efforts of the Railer
Nation. A reminder that if you are not able to get into the game,
you can listen on WLCN-FM 96.3 and
"We will have to play tremendous basketball for us to have a
chance," Alexander said. "We have to prepare for them, but I also
think they are going to have to do some preparing for us."
Oh, by the way, it was four years ago that coach Alexander
reached the 600-win milestone with a win at Lanphier. Need something
else to add to the storyline? Coach Al will be going for win 700 on
Friday night, in the same building, against the same team as he got
600, all the while trying to lead his team to be the only undefeated
team that walks out of the gym.
The schedule has been released for the County Market Winter
Classic, which will be in Jacksonville this year. This is the
mid-January tournament that has been played in Chatham while the
City Tournament is going on for the Springfield schools. We will
update you with the entire schedule as we get closer, but here are
the dates, times and opponents for the Railers: