Sunday, November 30, 2014
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Railers comeback against Champaign Centennial

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[November 30, 2014]  LINCOLN -- A solid second half of good shooting, better free throw shooting, and a key defensive play at the end of the game highlighted a Lincoln comeback as the Railers knocked off Champaign Centennial 53-50 on Friday night at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium. The win pulls the Railers into a second place tie with the Chargers at 2-1 in the tournament, trailing only Mahomet-Seymour at 3-0.

Seniors Gavin Block and Will Cook combined for 27 of Lincoln’s 31 second half points to erase an eleven point deficit. After a first half where there was continued stagnation on offense, the second sixteen minutes saw more aggressive play and more of an effort by Block to be involved.

“I’m not saying he (Block) has to shoot everytime,” Coach Neil Alexander said after the game, “but I thought there were some open looks he could have taken in the first half. He’s not going to get many open ones, so he needs to take them when he can.” Block’s 29 points were game-high and just one point shy of his career high. During one stretch spanning the latter stages of the second quarter and much of the third, Block scored 16 straight points for Lincoln.

On a night where the first two games were decided by just one point, the early part of the nightcap seemed to indicate another close one was on the docket. As in the first two contests, the Railers jumped to an early 4-0 lead on a back door layup by Payton Ebelherr and a pair of free throws from Block. Defensively, the energy was much better than Wednesday night, but the tip-aways and blocks were still ending up in the hands of Centennial, usually converted into points. A three from Nick Finke got the Chargers on the board, only to have Aron Hopp, who played another solid game, answer from behind the arc and put the Railers lead to 7-3.

After the Chargers tied the game at seven, a Block lay-in put Lincoln back on top. Quin Nottingham, on his way to leading Centennial on the night with 17, knotted the game at nine. It was Hopp again, this time banking one off the glass from in the lane, to give Lincoln the lead, something that they would not have again until the fourth quarter.

Centennial scored the next five points to take the lead at 14-11, only to see the Railers run the clock down for the final possession of the first with Will Cook hitting his first shot on the night, a three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game at 14. However, an 8-0 run by Centennial to start the second left a bit of uneasiness in the air at Roy S. Anderson as the Chargers were up 22-14. On offense, the Railers spent a lot of time looking to one another, waiting for someone else to make a play, a product that could be chalked up to inexperience.

“You’ve got to remember Gavin is the only one that has really logged minutes,” Alexander reminded Railer Nation. “A couple of others played some, but for the most part this is the first real taste of action.” After Block’s drive ended the run, the teams traded scores to put the score at 26-20 in favor of the visitors. Again, it was Coach Tim Lavin’s bunch to run off five in a row to take their largest lead of the night at eleven. Block sank a pair of free throws, a part of the game that would very important at the end of the game, to put the Railer deficit at nine at the half.

The third quarter featured a much less passive Block who hit a three and a layup to bring the Railers to within seven at 34-27. After a steal found Block open at the top of the key, the senior hesitated and passed on the shot, kicked it to a teammate, but got it back and did not hesitate on the second opportunity, knocking down his second three of the night and pulling Lincoln within four. In a similar fashion to Wednesday night’s loss to Mahomet –Seymour, the Railers were able to put a little more pressure on the defense, but unable to put together defensive stops of their own. Centennial scored six of the game’s next eight points to get back out to a 40-32 advantage.


Ready for some Railer basketball? Centennial was not. In Railer form of old, Lincoln used a 19-4 run fueled by tough defense, good shooting, and clutch free throw shooting to take the lead. After a basket from Block, Cook scored on a layup off a steal and then a drive down the lane to pull the Railers within a pair at 40-38. A basket by Anthony Martin off a nice exterior fee slowed the Railers just a bit, but another drive by Cook with two seconds left in the quarter left Lincoln down 42-40 heading to the fourth quarter.

[to top of second column]

Early in the first quarter, it was Hopp that gave Lincoln a lead at 11-9. Lincoln went back to the reliable junior to tie the game on a nice feed from Ebelherr at the 6:24 mark and returned to him to put Lincoln back in front with 4:41 left and the Railers up 44-42. Nottingham brought the game back to even at 44. Unfortunately, Lincoln would not have Hopp on the floor at the end of the game. After Block had hit a three, and then two free throws at the 1:10 mark, Hopp caught the wrong end of an elbow from Steven Lee as he went back up on a rebound. No malicious intent, just wrong place, wrong time. Lee was whistled for the offensive foul, while Hopp found himself under the Centennial basket and needing attention from the Lincoln training staff. Coach Alexander went on the court to check on him and when the coach headed back to the bench, you could see a bit of a smile, so things seemed to be OK. After the game, Alexander said there was a good chance he would need some stitches but “if I know Hopp, he’ll be here tomorrow.”

The drama of the night was not over even when Cook hit a pair of free throws with 44.4 left, making the advantage 51-44, the biggest Lincoln lead of the night. Tim Finke answered with a three and when Block made only one of two free throws, the Railer lead was only 52-47 with 17 seconds to go. Finke again hit a three and now it was down to a one possession game at 52-50. Block went to the line with 2.9 seconds to go, knowing both free throws would cement the win away. After missing the first, Block hit the second, leaving open the possibility for Centennial to send the game into overtime with a three-pointer. After a timeout, Centennial’s chances never got off the ground after a steal by Cook in front of the Lincoln bench and finally, this one was in the win column.
 Whewww! You get the feeling a lot of the Railer games are going to be like this. “Don’t give up on this team yet,” Alexander said. “This team is going to get better and tonight shows what they can do.”
 Only four players hit the scoring column for the Railers. Block (29) and Cook (13) were in double figures while Hopp added nine and Ebelherr scored an early basket.

 A full day of basketball is set for Saturday with two sessions on the final day of the Eaton Electrical Round Robin Tournament. Friday night also saw Morton best Danville 57-56 while Mahomet survived Cahokia 44-43. After the first three games, the standings show Mahomet on top at 3-0, Lincoln and Centennial both at 2-1, Cahokia and Morton are 1-2, with Danville winless at 0-3.
 Lincoln will be back in action first at 11:30 against Cahokia and then in the nightcap against Morton at 8:00. If you haven’t had a chance to see this Railer team yet, Saturday would be a great day for basketball at Roy S. Anderson.
 One final note – best wishes to former Railer standout Nathaniel Smith. The senior at Loras College was injured during the Duhawks’ first game of the season a couple of weeks ago. Due to the injury, Smitty is facing surgery Saturday morning. I, as I am sure the rest of Railer Nation, wish him all the best during the surgery and recovery.
 Block 9 8-10 29, Cook 5 2-2 13, Hopp 4 0-0 9, Ebelherr 1 0-0 2, Perry 0 0-0 0, Aeilts 0 0-0 0, Bowers 0 0-0 0. TEAM 19 10-12 53. 3-point FG 5 (Block 3, Cook, Hopp).
 Nottingham 17, T.Finke 10, Howard 6, Lee 6, N. Finke 6, Sago 3, Martin 2. TEAM 16 8-9 50. 3-point FG 6 (Howard 2, T.Finke 2, Nottingham, N.Finke).
 LCHS 14-8-18-13 53
 CENTENNIAL 14-17-11-8 50

[Jeff Benjamin]

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