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[November 21, 2017]  by Jeff Benjamin

The Lincoln Railers may have started the 2017-18 season as members of a new conference, but the results in the first game looked rather familiar.

By knocking off the Chargers from Champaign Centennial 51-42 on Monday night, the Railers extended their winning streak over the Chargers in the Eaton Electrical Round Robin Tournament to eight games. As will probably be a common thread for this season, it was a stand by defense that secured the win for Lincoln. After seeing a 14-point lead dwindle to just five at the end of the third quarter, the Railer defense sparked a 10-0 run to begin the fourth that finally put away the Chargers.

Seniors Ben Grunder and Isaiah Bowers topped the Railers in scoring with 16 and 14 points respectively and led a Railer defense that prevented Centennial from scoring until 1:49 remained in the fourth quarter. By that time, Lincoln had turned a 35-30 lead into a 45-30 advantage and left the Chargers watching their chances of winning diminish quickly as time ticked down.

One of the questions of the Railer season is what type of impact will 6í9Ē junior Jermaine Hamlin have on the floor. Hamlin showed flashes on both ends with an impressive block on one end followed up by a left-handed hook shot putting the Railers on the board. After a three from game high scorer Bryson Cowper, Grunder tallied for the first time giving Lincoln a 4-3 lead. Hamlin continued to show his potential by getting fouled on a shot after battling for an offensive rebound. Splitting the free throws tied the game at 5.

Centennial took their final lead at 7-5, but was quickly evened as Bowers scored on a back door layup off a precision pass from Titus Cannon. The basket started a 8-0 run as the Railers took a 13-7 lead at the end of the first quarter. The run included two of Lincolnís three three-pointers on the night, one each from Grunder and Tate Sloan, the latter coming off a shot from the top of the key that settled through the bottom of the net as the buzzer sounded.

Centennial grabbed the first four points of the second quarter, all from Cowper and Tommy Makabu. In fact the pair scored all of the points for the Chargers. After a hook shot from Hamlin, Cowper struck again from long range to bring Centennial within one.

Along with their run to start the fourth, it was another run, this time at the end of the second that propelled the Railers to a comfortable 13-point lead. Baskets from Bowers and Hamlin along with another three from Grunder stretched the margin to 22-14. One of the best defensive plays of the night gave Lincoln their first double digit lead of the night. Time and again, the Chargers were forced into turnovers where the ball would trickle into the backcourt. For most of those times, Centennial would slowly go after the ball to force the over and back violation. Down eight, Centennial watched another turnover turn into two points for the Railers as Cannon raced past the unaware Charger guard, pick up the ball, and race ahead for an easy layup and a 24-14 lead.

Bowers showed his athletic ability for Lincolnís next basket as he went up for a back door layup and, thanks to a helping Charger defender, was forced to double clutch in mid-air. Bowers scored the basket, was fouled, and converted the free throw for an 11 point lead. Just like the end of the first quarter, the Railers ran down the clock, getting a three at the buzzer. This time, however, it wasnít the shot that went down but Grunder. The senior was fouled as he attempted to match Sloanís end of quarter three. Grunder sank two of the three shot to put Lincolnís lead at 29-16.

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Back and forth scoring started the third with Lincoln baskets coming from Cannon and Grunder. Grunderís 15-footer kept the Railer lead at 13 at 33-20. Centennialís Cowper and Makabu, who combined for 34 points on the night, took over, scoring the next seven points and, at some points, left the Lincoln defense acting more like spectators. Up just six, the defense came up big again when Bowers grabbed a steal and hit a 15-footer, but another three-pointer cut the margin to only five at the third quarter break.

Bowers scored the first four of the fourth quarter as Lincoln started their game-deciding run. Grunder scored on an offensive rebound after his own miss, while Cannon picked up another steal and layup. After Sloan connected on a pair of free throws, the Lincoln lead had grown to the largest of the night at 45-30. The Chargers finally got on the board, but not after over six minutes of the fourth quarter had ticked away. With Lincoln up 46-35, Hamlinís first varsity start got an exclamation point. After swatting away what looked like a sure two for Centennial, the junior posted up on the low block, took a nice pass and turned to an open lane and sealed the win with a thunderous two-hand dunk, pushing the lead back to 48-35.

Lincoln coach Neil Alexander, who picked up career win number 781, mentioned one simple move may have been the deciding factor. ďYouíll notice we made our run when Tate (Sloan) went in. He allowed Isaiah (Bowers) to move to a four and he was moving on the back of the defense. That is what Jermaine (Hamlin) is going to have to learn to do for our defense.Ē

Centennial did end the game on a 7-3 run, but it was not enough as they fell to Lincoln 51-42. The last time Lincoln lost to Centennial during the opening week of the season was 2009.

Lincoln was led in scoring by Grunderís 16, a career high tying mark, doing so now for the fourth time. Bowers also hit double figures with 14, while Hamlin had a strong night of nine points. Cannon scored seven with Sloan adding five.

The other Monday night games saw Mahomet-Seymour sneak by Cahokia 53-50 while Danville did not find much resistance in an undermanned Limestone squad, handling the Rockets 91-34, the second largest margin in the tournament since 1999.

The Railers are back at it Wednesday night as they welcome Cahokia to a Thanksgiving Eve battle at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium. Tip time is set for 7:30.


Grunder 6 2-3 16, Bowers, 5 4-5 14, Hamlin 4 1-2 9, Cannon 3 1-2 7, Sloan 1 2-2 5, Holliday 0 0-0 0, Morris 0 0-0 0. TEAM 19 10-14 51. 3-point field goals 3 (Grunder 2, Sloan).


Cowper 18, Makabu 16, Billings 3, Roberts-Thomas 2, Evans 2, Flowers 1. TEAM 14 8-12 42. 3-point field goals 6 (Cowper 3, Makabu 3).

CENTENNIAL 7-9-14-12 42
LCHS 13-16-6-16 51

[by Jeff Benjamin]

[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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