Balanced offense puts Lincoln back in win column

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[January 18, 2017]  Well, now that’s more like it.

Last Friday night over the course of a regulation game and an overtime period, the Lincoln Railers only had four players score, including only three in the second half, en route to a listless 26-22 loss to Chatham Glenwood. On Tuesday night, with a few items added to the offense, the Railers had seven different players score in the game’s first ten minutes as Lincoln defeated Rochester 44-31 in the Central State Eight Non-City Boys’ Tournament.

It was a return to Railer basketball. Tough defense, crisp ball movement, unselfish play, taking smart shots. It seems like when one of the puzzle pieces falls into place, the rest just follows along. Aside from the win, getting the ugly taste of the Glenwood defeat out of their mouth may have been one of the bright spots from Lincoln.

“We had to find more scoring options so we added some things to the offense,” Coach Neil Alexander said. “ We pulled out some four around one, set some picks to get folks open, and we took and made some good shots.”

From the opening tip, it was evident the Railers were going to do what they could to not have a repeat performance of the previous game. Lincoln got the scoring started on a three from Isaiah Bowers, who Alexander commented “played one of his best games of the year because he didn’t force anything and he let the game come to him.” The lead increased to 5-0 when Bowers found Ben Grunder on the low block for a turn and easy score. Grunder was again in the starting lineup from Drew Bacon. Rochester’s Collin Stallworth got the hosts on the board with a baseline jumper. Stallworth, the Rockets’ leading scorer, finished with only six, a key to the win.

“I thought we did a nice job of knowing where he is. When you play him, and he’s a good player,” Alexander said, “you have to do two things. Cover him on the perimeter and make sure you keep him off the boards. I thought we controlled him well.”

Nolan Hullinger continued the hot shooting with a three from the top of the key before another Rochester score made it 8-4. The balanced attack continued with a lay-in from Titus Cannon and a left corner three from Tate Sloan, making it 13-4 in favor of the visitors. Rochester closed the quarter strong with the final four points to cut the margin to five at 13-8.

Plain and simple, the second quarter was all Lincoln, rocketing (pun intended) to a 16-2 run that put the Railers in the driver’s seat heading to intermission. A pair of free throws from Bowers preceded a deep three from Bryson Kirby. When Bacon, who returned to the lineup off the bench, scored on a back door play from Bowers with 6:06 to go in the quarter, it pushed the Lincoln lead to 20-8. It also put seven different Railers in the scorebook. This is what a balanced scoring plan looks like.

Grunder scored on another drive before Bacon converted two more baskets as the Lincoln lead grew to 26-8. A long two from Rochester’s Jayden Reed ended the drought for Rochester before Bowers drained a 16-footer. Sophomore Jermaine Hamilin got some early playing time and the made the most of it by altering shots on the defensive end while earning free throws with his hard work on the offensive side. The 6’8” sophomore split his free throws to round out the first half with Lincoln up 29-10.

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Again, Lincoln’s lead seemed comfortable, but in the earlier sophomore game, Lincoln had a 20 point fourth quarter lead that eventually dwindled down to seven, so nothing was taken for granted. The early part of the third belonged to Grunder, who scored nine of his game high 13 points in the quarter. The junior started it with a three pointer. Rochester did come out more aggressive and made it a point to be stronger going to the basket. Rochester and Grunder alternated baskets, the last of Rochester’s a baseline drive for an easy two. After Grunder scored to make it 36-14, the Rockets’ Adam Schwartz, who scored eight in the quarter, hit a three from the same corner he had just started his baseline drive from.

ROCHESTER 8-2-13-8 31

“They did some things in the second half that we did not respond well to,” Alexander said. Another Rochester score in the paint cut the lead to 17 before Grunder and Bowers played the pick and roll to perfection as Bowers fed Grunder for another score. Another three from Schwartz was followed by a lay-in from Kirby putting Lincoln up 40-22. The Railers caught a big break at the end of the quarter. With 1.7 seconds left, Rochester split a pair of free throws. On the inbounds, Bacon was able to sneak down court all alone where Bowers found him with the inbounds pass. Bacon caught the pass, turned, and laid in it as the buzzer sounded giving the Railers a 42-23 heading to the fourth.

Bacon finished the scoring for the Railers early in the final period as his bucket put him in double figures with ten. It was a good return to the lineup from his injury. The important day will be tomorrow and how he recovers from the first minutes he has played since the Lanphier game two weeks ago. Rochester scored the game’s final eight points in garbage time. All in all, a much better performance and a glimpse of ways this team can score. Now, the question, is can they repeat the performance?

Grunder and Bacon led with 13 and 10 points respectively. Bowers finished with seven, while Kirby added five. Hullinger and Sloan each hit from three point range, while Cannon added two and Hamlin chipped in with a free throw.

The Railers (12-6, 6-2) will have a quick turnaround and a chance to avenge a loss to Decatur MacArthur on Wednesday night at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium. This is the makeup date for the postponement this past Saturday. Lincoln has already had a glimpse at the Generals, a 51-41 loss on the final day of the Collinsville Holiday Classic. This is a MacArthur team that owns a win over Lanphier so the Railers will definitely have their hands full on Wednesday. A strong turnout from Railer Nation would be great to see as Lincoln continues to try to stay near the top of the Central State Eight. Sophomores tip at 6:00pm with varsity set for 7:30pm.


Grunder 6 0-0 13, Bacon 5 0-1 10, Bowers 2 2-2 7, Kirby 2 0-1 5, Hullinger 1 0-0 3, Sloan 1 0-0 3, Cannon 1 0-0 2, Hamlin 0 1-2 2, Morris 0 0-0 0, Combs 0 0-0 0, Birnbaum 0 0-0 0, Dewberry 0 0-0 0. TEAM 18 3-6 44. 3pt FG 5 (Hullinger, Kirby, Bowers, Grunder, Sloan).


Schwartz 9, Stallworth 6, Sutker 6, Baker 3, Reed 3, Dyer 2, Rosche 2. TEAM 12 5-11 31. 3pt FG 2 (Schwarz 2).

LCHS 13-16-13-2 44

[Jeff Benjamin]

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