Saturday night:  A win for the Railers, but just a game

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[February 04, 2018] 

On paper, Saturday night’s 51-27 win by the Lincoln Railers over Rock island will look like another in a recent string of defensively dominant performances. During the current five-game winning streak, the Railers have been holding opponents to less than 28 points a game. In reality, it was a lesson that life sometimes gets in the way.

While the Railers did improve to 18-5 on the season, they were playing a Rock Island team that was playing without one of their top players and with the emotion of being there for a teammate when he can’t be there for the team. In the past week, Rock Island junior Jamir Price suffered the devastating blow of the unexpected death of his mother. Price, doing “what he thought his mom would want him to do,” played in Rock Island’s game the following day. Price also played on Friday night against their Western Big 6 rival Moline. However, funeral services for Price’s mom were on Saturday and he, most understandably, was unavailable for the visit from the Railers.

“Yes, we would certainly love to play a team at full strength but they were not only playing without their top player, there was certainly some emotion going on,” Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said after the game. “Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with him, it’s tough, you know there was a lot going on here tonight. In everything, this here was just a basketball game, not really important.”

But, alas, there was still a game. Again, it was the defense that stood tall on Saturday night at the Rock Island Fieldhouse. After the Rocks (12-9) grabbed an early 5-0 lead in the first two minutes on a basket from Jamal Randle and a three from Ben Ellis, the Railers finally found their shooting eye. Drew Bacon got Lincoln on the board with a three from the left corner before Isaiah Bowers tied the game with a pair of free throws. The run continued on a driving layup from Titus Cannon and a score from Bowers. The lead continued to grow when Ben Grunder floated a perfect alley-oop pass to Jermaine Hamlin for a two-handed dunk. A Grunder steal resulted in an easy score for Cannon as Lincoln claimed a 13-5 lead after the first. Over the past few games, Cannon has shown a little bit more offensive success, a move that might be related to the defense.

“When we moved Tate (Sloan) to the point of the defense at different times, it gave us a different energy and it also gave Titus a bit of a break,” Alexander said. “Playing the point on our defense is no easy thing, it’s hard. Titus has taken advantage and seemed rested and it has shown when he has the ball.”

Hamlin continued his strong play, reaching double figures again with 12 points. His free throws starting the second quarter extended the run to 15-0 and gave Lincoln their first double digit lead at 15-5. Rock Island’s second 5-0 run cut the lead in half to 15-10, but Cannon and Grunder took over in the second to pace the Railers. After Hamlin saved the possession with his hustle, Cannon drained his fifth three of the weekend. Grunder followed up with an acrobatic one-armed offensive rebound and putback while being fouled. His three-point play pushed the lead to 21-10. Showing his flexibility, Grunder found an opening at the top of the key and hit a three to give Lincoln a 24-12 lead.

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The Railers held on to a 12-point advantage with a 26-14 halftime lead. On Friday night, Rock Island turned up the intensity on Moline out of halftime and that was something the Railers would need to be wary of. The Rocks were able to cut the deficit to ten at 28-18 before Lincoln put to bed any notions that the Rocks were going to duplicate their pressure from the Moline game.

Hamlin scored six during an 11-0 run that stretched the Lincoln lead to 39-18. A basket from Bowers, who led the team with 13 points, and another three from Grunder, put the Railers in control late in the third. The offensive flow Lincoln showed in the first half was not as crisp in the second but Lincoln was playing at a different level than their opponents and it was becoming clear the Railers would get the win.

Up 39-21 to start the fourth, the Railers used one more run to put an exclamation point on the win. Bowers scored seven during a 9-0 run as the lead was at 24. Lincoln’s final points came on a three from Isaac Dewberry.

The first half was definitely much better than the second. When Rock Island did score in the second half, it was in a way the Railers have struggled with before. “If there was one negative, it was how easily they got the ball in the middle at the high post with Ellis,” Alexander said. “We can’t allow that because teams can hurt us from there and we just can’t allow the ball in there.”

As mentioned Bowers led the way with 13 points and Hamlin scored 12. Cannon and Grunder chipped in with 9 points apiece while Bacon scored five and Dewberry added three.

The Railers jump back into conference play this week with a pair of games starting Tuesday against Mt. Zion. This is a Mt. Zion team the Railers handled 44-30 in December, but the Braves are fresh off a win over Mahomet-Seymour. It is not a team to be taken lightly and full support from Railer Nation will be needed on Tuesday night. On Friday, the Railers will travel to Effingham. Game time on Tuesday is a normal 7:30pm tip for the varsity with the sophomores going at 6. The sophomore squad got a 66-55 win over Rock Island, closing the game on a 25-15 run. Kameron Whiteman and Kaden Froebe each had 18 in the win.


Bowers 5 3-3 13, Hamlin 4 4-6 12, Cannon 4 0-0 9, Grunder 3 1-1 9, Bacon 2 0-0 5, Dewberry 1 0-0 3, Sloan 0 0-0 0, Holliday 0 0-0 0, Whiteman 0 0-0 0, Froebe 0 0-0 0, Ewald 0 0-0 0. TEAM 19 8-10 51. 3pt FG 5 (Grunder 2, Cannon, Bacon, Dewberry).


Tucker, R 8, Ellis 7, Randle 4, Conner 3, Lewis 3, Gustafson 2. TEAM 11 1-2 27.

LCHS 13-13-13-12 51
ROCK ISLAND 5-9-7-6 27

[Jeff Benjamin]

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