Railers end 2016 on three game losing streak

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[December 30, 2016]  One of the things that is so intriguing about sports is everyone has an opinion, everyone has a thought. It’s fun to play along and try to get in the mind of a coach and think ‘what play will he run’ or ‘why did he make that play call or decision.’ In the end, though, it is difficult to know exactly what is going through the mind of a coach. That is, unless the coach does something that takes away all doubt as to what he is doing and why he’s doing it.

On Friday, there was no doubt what was going through the mind of Lincoln coach Neil Alexander and the why was rather obvious to those in attendance on the final day of the Prairie Farms Holiday Classic.

With a little over a minute and a half to go in the first quarter, all five Lincoln starters were on the bench and, to use a hockey term, the second line was in, trying to do anything to bring a spark to the Railers. In the end, Lincoln was able to get close but not come back for the win as they fell to conference mate Decatur MacArthur 51-41. The loss leaves Lincoln with a three game losing streak, eighth place at the Classic, and more questions heading into 2017 than they hoped.

Maybe it was the after effects of the sluggish contest the night before against Eisenhower, but it did not take long for Alexander to make a statement to his regulars. Isaiah Bowers put Lincoln on the board first with a 14-footer in the lane on a nice pass from Drew Bacon. In a portent of bad things, it was the only score for Lincoln top offensive producer. MacArthur scored the game’s next six points before a drive by Titus Cannon cut the lead to 6-4. A score from Adrian Williams and a steal and score from one of MacArthur’s Brummett twins was the last straw.

By the time the Railer regulars had grabbed towels and taken a seat, hanging their heads due to results of their effort, a quintet of Tate Sloan, Zach Morris, Eddie Combs, Sam Birnbaum, and Colton Holliday were representing Lincoln on the floor. Lincoln’s normal starting five were on the bench, a location they would occupy for not just the rest of the quarter, but the rest of the half.

“I thought our second group of guys did a real good job,” Alexander said. “Yes, they made a few mistakes, but they were out there playing hard and that’s what I ask, is to play hard.” A number of years ago, a similar fate fell on the starters at a tournament game in Chatham as Lincoln was down early to Taylorville. Not going to play hard, not going to play. A simple equation that Coach Alexander does not waver from.

So, down 13-4, the Railers tried to keep Lincoln’s deficit respectable. The game speed certainly played a role in the struggles throughout the rest of the half. Birnbaum did bring the Railers closer by the end of the quarter with drive and layup, cutting the margin to seven at 13-6. For MacArthur it was the Brummett twins, Armon and Amir, that did in the Railers, combining for 30 points and 11 rebounds. After Grunder sank a 13-foot jump shot to keep the game at seven , 15-8, it was a three from Ray Neal and baskets off turnovers by each Brummett that catapulted the Generals’ lead to 22-8.

Yes, there were turnovers, a number of them by the “second team,” but that did not keep them from playing hard. Down 14, it would have been easy to pack it in and get ready to head back up I-55 to Lincoln. However, the Railers were looking for a spark and the end of the second quarter would see just that. A pair of free throws by Morris was followed by an offensive rebound putback by Holliday. Another basket from MacArthur was answered with a free throw from the sophomore Holliday and a basket at the buzzer from Grunder. Suddenly, there was hope heading into the locker room, as the lead had been cut to nine at 24-15.

It was not a good first half. Nine Lincoln turnovers resulted in 15 points for the Generals (6-4), and the Railers had more turnovers than baskets, none of the field goals from three point range. However, in the long run, Lincoln saw their deficit grow by only two with the starters on the bench. If the starters could get the message, find some inspiration and motivation from the bench perspective during the first half, it was still a winnable game.

With the second half ready to start, the five on the floor for Lincoln was the normal starting five of Cannon , Hullinger, Kirby, Bowers, and Bacon. Unfortunately, they were on the floor to watch a quick 6-0 burst to push the margin to the largest of the day at 15, now 30-15. The Railers did not score until 4:25 left in the quarter when Hullinger hit Lincoln’s first three of the day. After a MacArthur turnover, Cannon found an opening in the lane and his layup pulled Lincoln within 30-20. A free throw by MacArthur and an offensive rebound basket and foul stretched the game back to 14.

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Grunder spent a lot of time late in the third and early in the fourth at the line. The junior sank six of seven free throws around another score from Holliday. After Grunder’s final set of free throws, Lincoln was hanging around, down 10 at 38-28. When Williams made only one of two free throws, the Railers showed the heart we know that beats under the uniform with LINCOLN emblazoned on it. A three from Kirby followed by another MacArthur turnover led to another from long range from Kirby and quickly the game had closed to five at 39-34.

After the Generals got a basket from Amir Brummet, Cannon sank a pair of free throws to bring the game to 41-36. Free throw shooting was much better for the Railers, going 11 of 13 on the day. After Cannon’s tosses at 3:34, Lincoln was in the game and playing with fresher players thanks to their first half rest. However, turnovers and missed layups were a bugaboo for the Railers throughout the tournament and they struck again as the game headed to its conclusion. In a 1:45 stretch, MacArthur kept giving Lincoln opportunities thanks to turnovers, but the Railers could not take advantage, committing two turnovers and missing a layup.

With 1:49 to go, the Generals began to put the game away with a 10-5 run with Lincoln’s only scoring a three from Eddie Combs and layup from Tate Sloan. “It was a lot of things in this one,” Alexander said. “Off the top of my head, count eight layups we missed, we shot airballs, and then when we had a chance to cut it within five, missed shots and turned the ball over twice. Against a team like MacArthur, you just can’t do that.”

Over the course of the three days, it was a shooting performance Railer Nation is not used to seeing. Lincoln (9-4) shot 40 percent from the field, including 27 percent from three point range, and 58 percent on their free throws. The shots were there, they just were not falling.

“We need to find ourselves. Need to be more consistent,” Alexander said. “If you take a look at 500 teams, over the course of a season, they may have a really good night but then follow it up will a bad night. Really good teams stay at a consistent level and get better. We’ve had some ups, but it’s the valleys, the low-low valleys that we have to avoid.”

Grunder led the way in double figures with 10, while Cannon and Kirby each had six. Holliday played well in his short span with five points, with Combs and Hullinger adding three. Sloan, Birnbaum, Morris, and leading scorer Bowers each scored two.

The 2017 segment does not do Lincoln any favors as they start with Springfield Lanphier on Tuesday night. Lanphier is fresh off the championship of the Pekin Holiday Tournament with a 64-19 win over Normal West. The varsity will tip at 7:30pm Tuesday with the sophomore squad getting things kicked off at 6:00 at Lober-Nika Gymnasium. It will be Lincoln’s final visit to Lanphier as a member of the Central State Eight so you have to believe the Lions would like nothing more than to give the Railers a four game losing streak as a going away present. Let’s see Railer Nation show up and support the Railers as 2017 gets underway.


Grunder 2-3 6-7 10, Cannon 2-5 2-2 6, Kirby 2-6 0-0 6, Holliday 2-4 1-2 5, Hullinger 1-2 0-0 3, Cpmbs 1-2 0-0 3, Bowers 1-6 0-0 2, Sloan 1-1 0-0 2, Brinbaum 1-2 0-0 2, Morris 0-1 2-2 2, Bacon 0-2 0-0 0. TEAM 13-34 11-13 41. 3pt FG 4-14 (Kirby 2-6, Hullinger 1-2, Combs 1-2, Bacon 0-1, Morris 0-1, Bowers 0-2), Assists 6 (Bowers 2), Rebounds 13 (Bowers 3), Turnovers 12.


Am.Brummett 19, Ar.Brummett 11, Williams 9, Briggs 5, Neal 3, Thaxton 2, Ingram 2. TEAM 18-34 14-17 51. 3pt FG 1-9 (Neal), Assists 8, Rebounds 26, Turnovers 16.

LCHS 6-9-11-15 41
MACARTHUR 13-11-12-15 51

[Jeff Benjamin]

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