Saturday, January 18, 2014
 
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In an intense game, Lions slip past Railers 55-52

By Jeff Benjamin

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[January 18, 2014]  SPRINGFIELD Sometimes, the disappointing thing about a game with all the hype that surrounded the Lincoln-Lanphier, No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup is that the game never lives up to the billing. Friday night, both teams delivered as advertised. Unfortunately for the Railers, 32 minutes was not enough to decide a winner.

The No. 1 team in the state of Illinois in Class 3A basketball used a 10-0 run at the start of overtime, and then hung on, to knock off Lincoln 55-52 at a sold-out Lober-Nika Gymnasium on Springfield's north side. The defeat was the first of the season for the Railers, who fall to 14-1, 4-1 in Central State Eight play. It was the first of three possible matchups between the rivals. If this is just the appetizer, I can't wait for the main course, and hopefully dessert.

Going into the game, most pundits knew that the tempo would be a main key to the game. A low-scoring affair played into Lincoln's hands, while an up-and-down, fast-paced game favored Lanphier. Ironically, the part of the game that may have cost the Railers might have been when they were too patient.

"I don't know what happened in the fourth quarter, but we just stopped playing," Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said. "We were up what, 35-31? -- with the ball, and we stopped going to the basket."

The other issue that haunted the Railers on Friday night was rebounding. Lanphier seemed to get two and three opportunities, thanks to their ability to keep the ball alive on the offensive glass. One of those rebounds hurt more than the others. A miss from Larry Austin in the waning seconds of regulation went over everything after his drive to the basket. With the Railers unable to grab the airball, it ended up in the hands of Lanphier's Yaakema Rose, whose last-second shot bounced off the glass and in as the buzzer sounded, sending the game into overtime.

Lanphier had the momentum, and in the extra session, they kept putting the pressure on. Where Lanphier impressed the most was late in the fourth quarter and in overtime as they hit 12 of their last 14 free throws. In the end, though, it was a game where Lincoln was in it until the end, and up until that buzzer-beater, it seemed the Railers would take down the top-ranked Lions. It may happen later in the season when the Lions pay a visit to Roy S. Anderson (Feb. 28), but Friday night was not the night.

Lincoln's Max Cook got the Railers on the board to give them an early 3-2 lead. In a game of runs, Lanphier struck first by scoring the next seven to take a 9-3 advantage. A basket from Gavin Block, who was on his way to a career night, brought the Railers to within four to end the first quarter, down 9-5.

The Railers continued their run, thanks to a pair of buckets from Edward Bowlby. The second from Bowlby on a lob from Cook knotted the game at 9. After a Lion free throw, Block's 3-pointer put the Railers back up 12-10, but that was answered by Xavier Bishop from long range as the Lions jumped back on top by one. Lincoln was able to go back in front on a drive to the basket by Payton Ebleherr, who converted the 3-point play with a free throw. The lead grew to five when Block hit a 3 on a secondary break as the score moved to 18-13. Another 5-0 run allowed the Lions to get the game back even at 18. Block put the Railers back up on a basket that resulted from a saved possession, thanks to the hustle of Joey Olden. The senior chased down a loose ball that eventually made its way to Block for the score.

Bishop, who tied for high scorer for the Lions, hit again from 3-point range to send the teams to the halftime break with Lanphier up 21-20. For those lucky enough to get in, the first 16 minutes were what they had come to see, and the second half promised to be more of the same.

The third quarter was the best basketball for the Railers on the night, as they outscored Lanphier 15-8. Lincoln was led by Block, who scored 10 of his game- and career-high 28 points during the third. It was a 3 from Cook that allowed the Railers to grab the lead back after intermission. Once again the back-and-forth saw Lanphier tie the contest at 23. Free throws from Block put Lincoln back in the lead, and that advantage was extended on an inside basket from Bowlby.

The Railers struggled on the boards all night, but Block came through with an acrobatic tip-in to put Lincoln on top 29-24. The junior continued his dominance as his teammates continued to get him the ball. Block scored six more in a 6-2 run, and the Railers headed to the final eight minutes with a six-point lead at 35-29. It was their largest lead of the night, but they could never go up by more. They allowed Lanphier to stay close, and the Lions were about to take advantage of that.

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Both teams struggled to score to start the fourth. The momentum swung back to Lanphier at the 6:19 mark when Austin broke away after a steal and made a two-handed dunk. The Railers continued running their offense, but it started to look as though they had stopped playing to win and were playing not to lose. The aggressiveness they had shown in the third quarter seemed to turn to hesitation, and Lanphier took liberties with that. Another 3-pointer and the margin was down to just one at 35-34.

Block did his best to keep Lincoln in front by hitting 3 of 4 free throws, putting the Railers back up 38-34. The Lions (16-0, 7-0) used the home-court crowd to keep their energy up, and two scores later, the game was back to even at 38. What appeared to be "the shot" to push Lincoln to a possible victory came from the left corner as Ebelherr hit his only 3 of the night, and the Railer Nation went wild. But just like that, Austin answered with a 3 of his own to tie the game at 41.

Lincoln's final score of regulation came from Block at the line. His two free throws late in the fourth gave the Railers the lead at 43-41, and it was up to the defense to hold Lanphier for just one more trip down the court. As the Lions ran the clock down, Austin drove the left side, pulled up on the baseline and shot over everything. It seemed the entire gym was watching Austin take that shot, including the Railers, who failed to grab the rebound and allowed Rose to turn hero by sending the game into overtime with his buzzer-beater.

After a less-than-perfect toss to start the overtime, all the momentum belonged to Lanphier, and they wasted no time in getting to the basket for either scores or trips to the free-throw line, where they just would not miss. With a quick 10-0 run, the Railers finally tallied in the overtime, with Block hitting three more free throws. A 3 from Olden cut the game to five at 54-49, but it was a little too late. The 3-pointer that Cook hit to end the contest made the final score 55-52. It would have been nice if it would have meant the difference in the game, but it simply cut the final margin in half.

Could the Railers have won this one? You bet. They did everything necessary to win except finish this one out. It is a lesson learned in January that may pay off in February and March. In the battle of No. 1 versus No. 2, Lanphier may have won this one, but those in attendance, if they are honest, will tell you there is not much difference between the teams. This is a good, really good, Lincoln team. If they can find a way to consistently play 32 minutes, they will be tough to stop. Until then, hang on for some roller-coaster rides.

Block's career night of 28 points paced the Railers, but as Alexander said, "we need more balance"; he couldn't do it alone. Cook finished with nine, while Bowlby and Ebelherr scored six each. Olden was the only other Railer to score, on a 3-pointer in overtime.

The quest to get Alexander his 700th win continues Saturday night as the Railers are back home, trying to extend their home winning streak to 19 as Champaign Central pays a visit. The sophomores begin at 5 p.m., with the varsity set to tip at 6:30.

___

LINCOLN (52)

Block 8 10-12 28, MCook 3 0-0 9, Bowlby 3 0-0 6, Ebelherr 2 1-1 6, Olden 1 0-0 3, Horchem 0 0-0 0, Krusz 0 0-0 0, Conrady 0 0-0 0. Team 17 11-13 52. 3-point field goals 7 (Cook 3, Block 2, Olden, Ebelherr)

LANPHIER (56)

Austin 15, Bishop 15, Wallace 11, Millican 5, Rose 5, Patton 3, Tribbett 1. Team 17 14-22 55. 3-point field goals 7 (Bishop 5, Austin, Patton).

Lincoln     5-15-15-8-9   52
Lanphier   9-12-8-14-12  55

[By JEFF BENJAMIN]

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