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Too many Cooks spoil the soup for Jacksonville

By Jeff Benjamin

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[January 26, 2014]  JACKSONVILLE For those who have read my columns after Railer games, you know I have a tendency to drop a bad pun or two. Well, sorry to say, I can't resist this one. On Friday night, it was too many Cooks spoiling the soup for Jacksonville.

Will and Max Cook combined for 20 points, including a career-high 15 from Will Cook on five 3-pointers, as the Railers continued their march through the County Market Winter Classic with a 53-25 victory over Jacksonville. The win keeps Lincoln undefeated for the tournament, while moving their overall record to 17-2 with a 6-1 mark in Central State Eight play.

"We wanted to come over here and dominate this tournament," Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said after picking up his 702nd career victory. "We thought by being more aggressive with our defense, it would get the kids going, get them into the game."

For the second game in a row, the opponents must have felt like there were about eight Railers on the court.

Edward Bowlby got the scoring started on a lay-in after a bullet pass from the top of the key. After Jacksonville's Blake Hance tied the contest, Gavin Block hit a 3, and the lead would be Lincoln's for the rest of the night. Another inside basket from Nance cut the lead to one at 5-4 before the Railers hit the nitrous oxide on their offense. Another basket from Bowlby started a 27-2 run that left the homestanding Crimsons in shock.

On Wednesday night, Lincoln broke out the 3-point shot early and often against Quincy Notre Dame. It worked so well then, why not on Friday night. A 3 from Max Cook started the onslaught.

After Hance, who is headed to Northwestern to play football, tried to keep his team in the game with another score that made it 11-6, it was a display of fundamental basketball at its best. First, the smallest guy on the court at the time, Payton Ebelherr, took advantage of textbook blocking out by his teammates to grab an errant shot and get the putback. Max Cook then turned a steal into two points with a layup, and the Railer lead was up to 15-6 at the end of the first quarter.

For the first time this season, the Railers were presented with the opportunity to find out what the offense would be without the presence of Max Cook. The senior picked up his third foul and spent a good portion of the first half on the bench. It's hard to tell what a team might do when the person responsible for setting up the offense and filling an important position on the defense is not available. Against Jacksonville, exit one Cook, enter another one. Will Cook hit the first of his five 3s to extend the lead to 12 at 18-6. His 3 was followed by Block hitting from behind the arc, allowing him to tie Nathaniel Smith on the list of all-time 3-pointers at 27th with 71 3s.

After a Joey Olden score, it was more from long range as Tyler Horchem connected, followed by two more from Will Cook. By the time Jacksonville finally got on the board in the second quarter, Lincoln was up 32-8. Horchem dialed up another 3 to end the first-half scoring for Lincoln, although his tip attempt on a miss at the end of the quarter almost went down. By halftime, it was pretty obvious this one would be over quickly as Lincoln was ahead 35-10.

One of the issues Jacksonville had was the more aggressive Lincoln defense. At one point late in the half, the Railers had been whistled for nine team fouls, while Jacksonville had only two. Normally, that might cause Railer Nation to think the officials weren't giving Lincoln a fair shake, but on this night, it was just fine with the coaches.

"Well, it was being more aggressive. Now, we don't want to make silly fouls," Alexander said, "but our traps were good. We usually trap low, but tonight we trapped a little higher. It forced them to play a little faster than they wanted to."

That defense also held the Crimsons to just 10 shots in the first half, while Lincoln hit 13 of their 25 attempts.

So, what does a team that's been sizzling from 3-point range do to start the second half? You do know we are talking about Lincoln basketball, right? Yep, Horchem hit a 3 to start the second-half scoring and put the Railers up 38-10. The teams traded baskets over the next few trips up and down the court, but when you are getting three and giving up two, simple math tells you that spells victory.

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With the scoreboard at The Bowl showing Lincoln well in control at 42-15, Will Cook hit two more 3s to extend the lead. Railer Nation may have been pleasantly surprised, but not his teammates or coach.

"When Will plays within himself, he can be very, very good," Alexander said. "As coaches, we don't just see what he can do this year, but we are already looking ahead to what he will do next year."

With the Railers up 48-18, a basket by the Crimsons gave them their 10th point of the quarter. Not real significant in a 30-point game, but for the Lincoln defense it was. The points marked the first time in the first 11 quarters of the Winter Classic that the Railers had surrendered double-digit scoring in a quarter. When you do that, you'll win a lot of games.

Another way to win games is not turn the ball over. Over the last two games, Lincoln has been cited for only five turnovers. In contrast, the Crimsons were forced into 19 turnovers on the night.

Late in the third, Bowlby hit the last of the 12 3s Lincoln would hit on the night, matching the number they had hit on Wednesday night to equal a season high from behind the 3-point line.

With the margin over 30 to start the fourth quarter, the running clock was once again in effect, and the Railers finally got a small taste of their own medicine as Jacksonville held Lincoln scoreless in the fourth. A little too late, I'm afraid, if you are the Crimsons (6-12, 1-7).

The Railers were led by Will Cook's first double-figure scoring game with 15 points. He was the only Lincoln player to reach double digits, but three of his teammates were close with nine each as Horchem, Block and Bowlby all had good scoring nights. Max Cook finished with five points while Olden chipped in with four and Ebelherr scored two.

A doubleheader is on tap for Saturday. The first game is scheduled to tip at 11:30 a.m. with Lincoln facing off against Rochester for the first time this season. The final game of the night should be a dandy. If both teams hold serve in the morning session, Glenwood will battle Lincoln for the title of the Winter Classic. The 8 p.m. contest will be the first get-together for the teams since the heartbreaking and controversial finish to last season's sectional semifinal won by Glenwood in overtime on a last-second shot by Peyton Allen.

If you are looking for some good basketball, head over to the Bowl, but if the trip is too long or the winter weather (yes, I'm ready for spring, too) keeps you from getting out, you can tune in to the games on 96.3 FM or wlcnonline.com.

The other scores from Friday night at the Jacksonville Classic saw Taylorville beat Quincy Notre Dame 49-42 and Glenwood easily over Rochester 56-32.

___

LINCOLN (53)

W.Cook 5-10 0-2 15, Horchem 3-8 0-0 9, Block 3-6 1-2 9, Bowlby 4-7 0-0 9, M.Cook 2-5-5 0-0 5, Olden 2-2 0-0 4, Ebelherr 1-2 0-0 2, Conrady 0-1 0-0 0, Krusz 0-1 0-0 0, Dunovsky 0-1 0-0 0, Hopp 0-1 0-0 0, Fry 0-1 0-0 0, Aeilts 0-0 0-0 0. Team 20-45 1-4 53. 3-point field goals 12-29 (W.Cook 5-9, Horchem 3-6, Block 2-5, M.Cook 1-4, Bowlby 1-2, Ebelherr 0-1, Fry 0-1, Dunovsky 0-1).

JACKSONVILLE (25)

Hance 12, Hays 5, Ring 4, Baker 2, Fischer 1, Dugan 1. Team 8-24 8-11 25. 3-point field goals 1-8 (Hays).

Lincoln        15-10-18-0  53
Jacksonville   6-4-10-5    25

[By JEFF BENJAMIN]

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