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[December 10, 2016]  The Lincoln Railers made their final Central State Eight visit to the Bowl in Jacksonville a memorable one on Friday night as they were able to hold off a much more hyped Crimsons squad and leave with an unblemished conference mark. Bryson Kirby and Isaiah Bowers led the way, combining for 28 points in Lincoln’s 43-34 win over Jacksonville. With the Crimsons favored to be near the top of the CS8 and Lincoln projected for near the middle, many may be surprised that it was the Railers getting their hands raised in victory.

As has been customary over the years, it was the Lincoln defense leading the way, holding a Jacksonville team that came in averaging almost 59 points a game to well below their season average. “I thought our defense played great tonight. We kind of lost track of them in the second quarter, but for the most part, I thought we did a nice job, “ Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said after the game.

Lincoln (6-1, 2-0) took control from the outset, hitting four of their six threes for the game in the early stages of the first quarter. After Kirby got the first points on the board about three minutes into the game, the senior benefited from a steal by Titus Cannon who found Kirby on a secondary break, resulting in another from long range. Another Jacksonville turnover, one of eleven in the first half, saw the Railers work the ball around to an open Ben Grunder from the top of the key and his make pushed the Lincoln lead to 9-2.

Kirby, who came in averaging a little over eight points a contest, passed that with his third three and in the blink of an eye, Lincoln had jumped to an early double digit lead at 12-2. Jacksonville’s Brandon McCombs scored all the points for the home team in the first quarter, his second basket cutting the Railers lead to eight at 12-4 after the first eight minutes.

For the entire first quarter and the early part of the second, the Lincoln defense was really good. Passes were getting tipped one after the other. The Crimsons just seemed way out of synch, but a lot of the credit for that goes to the quickness, both hands and feet, of the Railer D.

Lincoln continued to look more like a highly ranked conference team in the second. After a lob play to Bowers did not find a score, Bowers stayed tenacious and, using a one hand tip, extended the Lincoln lead to 14-4. A three point play from McCombs, who came in averaging 14.5 a game, gave him all seven for the Crimsons and cut the margin to 14-7. One of the best parts of Friday’s game was that everyone was contributing. A steal by Tate Sloan found a wide open Nolan Hullinger, who had sneaked out ahead of the play. Hulliinger’s easy lay-in put the lead back to 16-7. Things are looking good.


Yes, until Jacksonville decided that the limits of their three point shooting range would be tested and did they ever pass that test. Jacksonville’s leading scorer Brady Hays drilled a line drive three from about 25 feet, followed by a deep, high-arcing three from James White. After another miss by Lincoln, Hays hit another deep three, maybe even a few feet back from his first and, despite the great start on the road, with 1:35 left in the half, the game was tied at 16. Defensively, if they can stand there and make them routinely from that distance, all you can do is tip your hat to them.

Neither team scored the rest of the way. Rather even first half with each team having a four point quarter and a twelve point quarter. Lincoln had eight miscues to Jacksonville’s 11. Both teams hovered around the thirty percent mark in shooting. The coach staff for Lincoln had to be glad for half time because the momentum was certainly on the side of the Crimsons.

For Lincoln, the first quarter could not have started much better. Shots were falling, defense was forcing mistakes, Jacksonville was doubting themselves, and the Railers looked like they were the team with all the confidence coming in. And then, the first 41 seconds of the third happened and was a complete opposite from the first quarter.

A pass from Cannon, intended for Kirby, was tipped away by the long reach of Hays, who ran ahead of everyone and laid it in for Jacksonville’s first lead of the night. After an ill-advised shot, the rebound found its way being pushed up court and in to the hands of Garret Scaman, who scored on a reverse layup and the Crimsons had blasted to a 20-16 lead, forcing Coach Alexander to take a timeout.

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The timeout did the trick as the Railers ran a play that found an open Drew Bacon under the basket on a look from Cannon. Bacon’s score ended a 13-0 run for Jacksonville (5-2, 1-2) and it was Bacon again scoring on the next trip to tie the game at 20. Before the Crimsons were able to realize the game was tied, they were already behind as Bowers scored after another Lincoln steal. McCombs quickly tied the game at 22 and the slow pace from the first half seemed to be tilting more to the speed that the Crimsons would feel more comfortable at playing.

After McCombs tied the game, the Railers went on to finish off a 14-2 run with threes from Bowers and Kirby and a steal by Zac Morris, which led to a driving layup in the lane from Cannon. Just like that, back up 30-22. The Crimsons did score the final points of the quarter, cutting the margin to four at 30-26. However, each time they got closer, the Railers had an answer at the Bowl. Bowers made a strong baseline move and scored on a lay-in. After a two from Hays, Bacon scored after being wide open and Grunder followed with a basket after another strong defensive effort and rebound.

 Up 36-30, the game may have been salted away when Bowers scored and was fouled, completing the three point play with 2:18 to go. After the brief barrage of threes in the first half, the Crimsons were unable to connect from behind the arc the remainder of the night. But, that didn’t stop Lincoln from helping the cause of the Crimsons. “Well, we did everything we could to try to give this one away,” Alexander said. “Made silly mistakes, didn’t take good shots, let rebounds hit the floor. At least there are a lot of things to work on. “
 Part of that was after cutting it to 39-32, the inbounds pass by Bowers was stolen by McCombs who scored to cut the game to just five. It was the last thing the home crowd would have to cheer about. As the Crimsons fouled in earnest to get to the bonus to force Lincoln to win the game from the line, it fell on the shoulders of Kirby, who missed the front end of a one and bonus with 37 seconds to go. But, as had been the case most of the night, the Crimsons just could not take care of the ball or grab an important rebound when needed. With 27 seconds left, Kirby redeemed himself by hitting both free throws to push the lead to seven. Again, nothing would fall for Jacksonville and Kirby and Bowers each split a pair of free throws in the final seconds to provide the Railers with the final winning margin of 43-34.
 Kirby led with a season high 15 points, while Bowers added 13. Bacon scored six with Grunder chipping in with five. Cannon and Hullinger each scored two with Sloan and Morris playing, not scoring, but each adding their own mark on the game at one point or another.

 Lincoln has a couple of home games on tap for next week, starting with a Friday contest against Springfield. Varsity tip is set for 7:30 with the sophomores leading off at 6:00. Coach Gregg Alexander’s squad picked up a win to start Friday night with a 41-26 win over the Crimsons JV. A reminder that this was Lincoln’s final game before the seeds are to be set sometime Sunday for the holiday tournament in Collinsville. As soon as the information is released, check back with Lincoln Daily News for seed information and the bracket.
 Kirby 4 3-5 15, Bowers 5 2-3 13, Bacon 3 0-0 6, Grunder 2 0-0 5, Cannon 1 0-0 2, Hullinger 1 0-0 2, Sloan 0 0-0 0, Morris 0 0-0 0. TEAM 16 5-8 43. 3pt FG 6 (Kirby 4, Bowers, Grunder).
 Hays 14, McCombs 13, Scaman 4, Ja. White 3. TEAM 15 1-2 34. 3pt FG 3 (Hays 2, Ja.White).
 LCHS 12-4-14-13 43
 JACKSONVILLE 4-12-10-8 34

[Jeff Benjamin]

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