Big day from Cannon leads Lincoln to seventh in a row

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[January 16, 2018]  To most in attendance at Vergil Fletcher Gymnasium on Thursday afternoon, the point guard for the Lincoln Railers was wearing his customary white jersey with the number one on its chest. However, to those attached to the Hazelwood East Spartans, it may have appeared he was wearing a giant “S on his chest.

During the first game of the 34th annual Prairie Farms Holiday Classic, the role of Superman was played by 5’11” senior Titus Cannon. Cannon had a career day with 22 points on perfect 9 of 9 shooting from the field, dished out four assists, grabbed four rebounds, and came away with two steals in Lincoln’s 63-43 win over Hazelwood East. The victory advances the Railers into the winner’s bracket where they will face off against Quincy. As for Cannon, he played with confidence from the opening tip and his aggressiveness was a key to the Railer win.

“I thought Titus had a great day,” Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said after the game. “We’re going to need him to play like that for the rest of the tournament, really for the rest of the season if we want to keep getting better as a team.”

It took a little over two minutes for any scoring to occur but fittingly it was Cannon hitting a three from the left corner to the put the Railers on top. Baskets from Jermaine Hamblin and Isaiah Bowers pushed the lead to 7-0 before the Spartans (6-2) were forced to take their first timeout. After the Spartans finally got on the scoreboard, a Cannon free throw and lob pass to Hamblin for an easy inside basket contributed to Lincoln’s 10-5 lead at the end of the first quarter.

During the quarter break, Cannon must have stepped into a phone booth somewhere because when he stepped onto the court, he was doing everything but leaping tall buildings in a single bound. The senior scored 12 of Lincoln’s first 14 points of the quarter and in a variety of manners. Whether a finger roll down the lane through traffic, a long three pointer, or the recipient of an outlet pass off a steal from Bowers, by the time there was still five minutes left in the first half, Cannon had already eclipsed his career high. For good measure, Cannon added three the hard way on a layup and free throw. By the time the smoke had cleared, Lincoln had jumped out to a 24-9 lead.

Obviously a lot of credit goes to the Lincoln defense, a unit that has been stymieing offenses for the past month. Over the contest, the Railers (9-2) scored 14 points off 13 Hazelwood East turnovers. As always seems to happen, when teams are faced with the Lincoln pressure defense for the first time, it can be a bit bewildering. Thursday was no exception as the Spartans shot only 43 percent for the game including just 30 percent in the first half. Combine that with Lincoln’s 64 percent first half shooting (60 for the game) and it is easy to see that Lincoln came to play in Collinsville.

The one confusing aspect was that when the Spartans did score, it was by the easiest of ways possible. More than once in the first half the Railers stood around on inbounds plays while passes found an open player who converted the basket. “We have to work on our out of bounds defense. Teams like to score on those plays, just like we do,” Alexander said. “I’m not sure what happened on some of those but you are trying on defense to limit opportunities and we didn’t do that.”

Once the opposing defense decided to start guarding Cannon, the rest of the Railers picked up where the point guard left off. Ben Grunder connected for a two straight 15-footers to extend the lead to 32-15. After a steal by Cannon, he found Colton Holliday wide open for an easy two while Grunder’s two free throws ended the first half scoring with Lincoln up 36-17.

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The Spartans were able to make some adjustments during half time but Lincoln had imposed its will some much in the first half that a comeback seemed rather a silly notion. Possibly lost in the great play of Cannon were solid performances from Grunder and Bowers. Bowers scored 10 points on the night, reaching double figures now in each game this season and 51 for his career. He had 6 rebounds, assists, and steals. Grunder added eight points and a team-high seven rebounds. The two connected to score on an out of bounds play as Grunder’s lob pass found Bowers in the lane for an easy score and a 40-20 margin.

With a few missed shots and sloppy play from Lincoln, Hazelwood East was able to climb back as close as 15 at 46-31. However, an 8-0 run featuring Cannon’s last four points of the game made it clear the Railers would be playing the rest of the games this weekend in the main gym, avoiding the auxiliary gym.

Isaac Dewberry, who is quickly turning into Mr. 4th Quarter (after scoring nine in the fourth against Charleston), scored seven in a row to help secure the win for the Railers and move into a quarterfinal matchup with Quincy, a winner over Belleville East.

“It really doesn’t matter who we play down here, I just really wanted to see where this team is and where we may have some weaknesses,” Alexander said. “That’s our hope each year here is to see what we’ve got. No matter the opponent, the rest of the week we will be tested.”

If you haven’t guessed by now, Cannon led the way with 22 points, followed by the 10 from Bowers and 9 from Dewberry. Grunder and Hamblin each had eight points with Holliday scoring four and Drew Bacon chipping in with two.

Lincoln will play two on Friday with the first matchup at 11:30am against Quincy. A win in that game puts them into a 6:30 semifinal contest while losing to the Blue Devils will send the Railers to a 5:00pm game. Their opponents for the second game will be either Springfield Southeast or Oakville. There is plenty of good basketball to be seen yet this week and the drive down doesn’t take that long. “We’d love to have our fans here,” Alexander said. “I think we’ve got more than just about anyone else but we could always use more and we’re going to need it.”


Cannon 9-9 2-3 22, Bowers 4-11 2-2 10, Dewberry 4-6 0-0 9, Grunder 3-7 2-2 8, Hamlin 3-7 2-4 8, Holliday 1-1 2-2 4, Bacon 1-1 0-1 2, Sloan 0-0 0-0 0, Whiteman 0-0 0-0 0. TEAM 25-42 10-14 63. 3pt FG 3-9 (Cannon 2-2, Dewberry 1-2, Grunder 0-1, Bowers 0-4). Rebounds 26 (Grunder 7, Bowers 6), Assists 14 (Bowers 6, Cannon 4). Steals 10 (Bowers 6), Turnovers 11.


Horton 12, Gilmore 8, McBride 6, Lowe 6, Brown 5, Fultz 4, Davis 2. TEAM 17-40 4-9 43. 3pt FG 5-18 (Gilmore 2, Lowe 2, Brown). Rebounds 20, Assists 11, Steals 5, Turnovers 13.

HAZELWOOD E 5-12-14-12 43
LINCOLN 10-26-18-9 63

[By Jeff Benjamin]

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