Saturday, March 08, 2014
Sports News

Not a game for the faint of heart

Railers move from fourth-quarter deficit to OT win

By Jeff Benjamin

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[March 08, 2014]  When Lincoln's Max Cook got Friday night's scoring started with a 3-pointer, no one at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium could have imagined the next 3 hit by the Railers would be cutting a fourth-quarter deficit in half as Lincoln fought back against a tough Decatur MacArthur team. The Railers and Generals needed overtime to determine the regional champion and, finally, Lincoln was able to survive and advance with a 46-44 win over the Generals.

Anybody got any extra blood-pressure medicine?

The Railers used a 10-2 run late in the fourth quarter to take the lead, only to have the Generals tie the game. Lincoln's final shots in the last five seconds, a jumper from Cook and a last-second baseline toss from Payton Ebelherr, both missed the mark, and 32 minutes was not enough to crown a regional champion.

"I'm really proud of our kids tonight," Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said after claiming his 16th regional title at Lincoln. "We were down six in the fourth quarter and we could have folded, but we didn't. That is a good team we beat. He (coach Phillips) does a great job of having them playing their best at the end of the year. They are going to be a great addition to the conference."

In the overtime, Lincoln used an 8-3 run to finally put enough distance between themselves and MacArthur. When a 3 from Marcus Bartley went through the bottom of the net as the overtime clock expired, it proved inconsequential as the Railers escaped with the two-point win. The Railers scored six of their eight overtime points from the free-throw line.

In a game that was close throughout  the largest lead for either team was MacArthur's six-point advantage  every possession seemed filled with drama.

Cook's opening salvo was answered by four from the Generals' Keymonte Johnson, the hero from their overtime win over second-seeded Normal U-High on Wednesday. The Railers took the lead back on a driving layup from Cook, who then assisted with a lob pass to Gavin Block on an out-of-bounds play. A pair of free throws from Cook put Lincoln up 9-4.

Up 10-6, Block was involved in a key play for MacArthur (16-11) at the end of the first quarter. As Quay Owens drove the baseline looking for a last-second shot, Owens hesitated just before letting an out-of-control shot go toward the basket. Somehow  and it seemed all the rolls and breaks went MacArthur's way  the shot went in, and Block bumped him on the shot, sending him to the line, where he finished off the three-point play, leaving Lincoln up just one after the first quarter.

Owens continued his shooting prowess by hitting a 3 to start the second, giving the Generals a two-point advantage. Block tied the game with free throws, while Edward Bowlby, who struggled from the outside, converted a tough lay-in surrounded by Generals in the lane to send the Railers back up at 14-12. Bartley, a St. Louis University recruit, hit a deep 3, and Block, the game's leading scorer with 19, split a pair of free throws as the game was knotted at 15.

With MacArthur up 17-15, Block, who was held to nine points on Tuesday night, started to heat up. Block scored on a pull-up 16-footer followed by a get-out-of-my-way drive to the basket, using one dribble from the 3-point line. Bartley answered with another 3, but Block continued to score, and his final basket of the half sent the Railers to the break with a slim one-point lead at 21-20.

Needless to say, Railer Nation was sitting rather nervously. Lincoln has been in close games before but usually found a way to stretch the game out for an easy win. There was just a feeling in the gym that this one was not going to be one of those nights.

As with the first half, the second half got off to a great start as Joey Olden scored after a pinpoint backdoor pass from Block, and Lincoln extended its lead to three at 23-20.

One of Lincoln's weaknesses on the night was the inability to stop MacArthur from getting the ball inside, especially to 6-foot-1 senior Jerome Adams. Adams took over, scoring the next three baskets, all in the inside, and before you could you figure out what had happened, the Generals had moved out to a 26-23 lead.

Olden was able to pull Lincoln closer with a basket, only to have Bartley's lay-in move the deficit back to three. A free throw from Block put Lincoln down 28-26 as the game headed to a stressful fourth quarter.

Trailing going into the fourth, the Railers faced a deficit starting a quarter for the first time since the end of the first quarter in the game at Southeast. Momentum certainly seemed like it was going the wrong way as the Railers started with the ball but missed an opportunity as Bowlby's lay-in off the top of the key lob rolled off the rim, and MacArthur came down and converted to put the No. 1 team in the state down five at 31-26. Olden scored again, being the only Railer to that point to make a second-half basket. The Generals did not go away and did not play as though there was any fear from being in the regional final. After Bartley took his drive down the right side of the lane completely unimpeded, an even quieter hush fell over Railer Nation as the Generals took their biggest lead of the night at 34-28.

All season, the Railers' performance has driven the crowd to their feet. On Friday night, the effort was reciprocated. Many times during the fourth quarter, just when it seemed like a bunch of kids giving their all needed a little bit more, the crowd was there, showing them how much they appreciated the effort and letting them know that the home folks were behind them all the way.

"The crowd was great," Alexander said. "It makes a big difference when they are behind you. Thank you to everyone. Thank you."

[to top of second column]

Lincoln began the comeback as Max Cook hit Lincoln's first 3 since early in the game, cutting the deficit in half at 34-31. After a Lincoln timeout, the Generals answered to push the lead back to five. It may have seemed that some of the players were a bit tight during the game, some shots falling short. However, at the 3:07 mark, junior Will Cook didn't even think twice about firing from just to the right of the top of the key. His 3-pointer pulled Lincoln to within two and may have been the shot that finally got the Railers over the edge on their way back.

No matter what had happened up to that point, Bowlby came up huge with about 2 1/2 minutes to go. The senior took a pass from Max Cook, went up strong, made the basket and was fouled. His basket tied the game at 36. The game remained even after Bowlby missed the free throw.

Lincoln took the lead late in the game when Max Cook drove the lane, used a hesitation dribble and got the layup to go down. Up 38-36, the Railers stood by and watched as no one covered the weak side, and Owens was able to grab the MacArthur miss, lay it in and tie the game. As was mentioned on our broadcast, it looked eerily similar to the putback scored by Lanphier's Yakeema Rose to send that game into overtime.

With the game tied at 38, the Railers had their chances, but credit MacArthur, as they used their allotment of fouls to force the Railers to use time and continue inbounding the basketball. Finally, with five seconds to go, Lincoln inbounded to Max Cook. His jumper missed to the left and Ebelherr's last-second attempt fell short, sending the game into overtime.

The Railers started the extra session with the ball, going back to their lob play one more time. Bowlby was fouled on his attempt and came up big, hitting both free throws. The next time down, it felt as though Lincoln caught a break when Block collided with a MacArthur defender and it appeared the Lincoln junior could have been called for charging. Fortunately, the call went Lincoln's way and Block hit both free throws to put the Railers up four at 42-38. Owens, the leading scorer on the night for the visitors, continued to be a pest as he hit another 3 to cut the Lincoln lead back to one.

Block's drive with 1:18 left put Lincoln up 44-41. Finally, the shots that had been going down for the Generals started missing their target. Block hit two more free throws with 23 seconds to go to stretch the margin to five. Bartley's shot at the buzzer only changed the margin, not the outcome, and the Lincoln Railers had accomplished the first of their postseason goals: a regional championship, the 53rd in school history.

It was a battle the whole way, and someway, somehow, the Railers came through. The win allowed Lincoln to reach 30 wins (30-2) for only the seventh time in the 101 years of Railer basketball, four of them under coach Alexander.

The Railers were led by the double-figure scoring of Block with 19 points and Max Cook with 12. Bowlby and Olden each had six, while Will Cook hit a big 3.

Up next for the Railers, a very familiar foe in the Glenwood Titans. Lincoln has defeated Chatham coach Todd Blakeman's squad twice this season, but this is the one that counts. Motivation anyone?

"We are playing the team that knocked us out of the state tournament last year," Alexander said. "If that doesn't put a big chip on your shoulder, I don't know what will."

The game is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Mattoon High School. You'll find ticket information in the associated posting here on Lincoln Daily News.

Well, one goal down. Regional champions. Next stop, the sectional at Mattoon. It seems interesting that the other three teams at the sectional  Glenwood, Lanphier and Champaign Central  are the last three teams to defeat the Railers. The Railers will be ready; hopefully, Railer Nation will be ready as well.

Now, where are those Tums?

___

LINCOLN (46)

Block 5-10 9-12 19, M.Cook 4-8 2-4 12, Bowlby 2-10 2-3 6, Olden 3-6 0-0 6, W. Cook 1-1 0-0 3, Horchem 0-2 0-0 0, Ebelherr 0-2 0-0 0, Conrady 0-0 0-0 0. Team 15-39 13-19 46. 3-point field goals 3-18 (M.Cook 2-3, W.Cook 1-1, Ebelherr 0-1, Horchem 0-2, Olden 0-3, Block 0-3, Bowlby 0-5).

MACARTHUR (44)

Owens 14, Bartley 13, Adams 8, Johnson 4, Jones 3, Merriweather 2. Team 18-38 2-3 44. 3-point field goals 6-16 (Bartley 3, Owens 2, Jones)

LCHS         10-11-5-12-8  46
MacArthur    9-11-8-10-6  44

[By JEFF BENJAMIN]

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