Lincoln’s defense grinds it out “four” a win
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[February 07, 2018]
After Mt. Zion spotted the
Lincoln Railers an early 5-0 lead on Tuesday night, the Braves ran
off seven in a row to take their first lead of the night. As the
game would play out, Mt. Zion would have loved to have put together
seven more points in the fourth quarter to stay in the contest. Or,
perhaps at least seven in the second half. Who knows? Maybe seven
field goals or free throws. But no, not on this night because the
lucky number was four.
Both teams combined to make just four field goals after halftime and
the Lincoln defense held the Braves to only four points in the
second half as the Railers pulled out a fourteen point win, 37-23,
over Mt. Zion in Apollo conference action. The margin matched the
44-30 win from earlier in the season for the Railers. With the win,
Lincoln stays atop the conference standings at 9-1 with just two
games left on the Apollo docket, both on the road.
Senior Ben Grunder was the key to the Lincoln win as he played one
of his best games of the season, scoring a team-high 14 points and
grabbing five rebounds. “I thought Ben played really well tonight,”
Coach Neil Alexander said. “He was very aggressive on the offensive
end and helped out on rebounding. He’s such a strong player and
their pack line defense makes it very difficult to get to the basket
so we had to find other ways tonight.”
The win improves the Lincoln mark to 19-5, just one win away from
another 20-win season and also leaves Coach Alexander one victory
shy of the 800-win plateau, a milestone he can reach on Friday at
Effingham. Of course, early on, it looked like Mt. Zion would put a
speed bump on the road to that mark.
The early five points from Lincoln came on a three-pointer from
Isaiah Bowers and steal and layup from Titus Cannon. Mt. Zion
stomped on the gas and put together a 7-0 run on scores from
Mitchell Binder and Trevor Durand. When Clayton Marquardt drained a
three, the Braves (10-14, 4-6) climbed on top 7-5. Lincoln’s main
offensive weapon in the first half was the three-pointer, mostly out
of necessity. “The way they play defense, you have to take those
threes and they were mostly good shots, we just didn’t hit many,”
Alexander said. “If you’re going to take them, you need to make a
few or they are just going to dig in with that defense.”
Threes from Grunder and Bowers stretched the Lincoln lead to 11-7 at
the end of the first quarter. Corbyn Bender came off the bench to
provide a four point spark to knot the game at 11 before a baseline
jumper from Grunder gave the lead back to the Railers. Mt. Zion
senior Jonah Smith, one of the conference’s top two scorers and “one
of the best shooters I’ve seen,” according to Coach Alexander, hit
his first three of the night tipping the scales back towards the
Braves at 14-13. Smith, who has unlimited range and a green light,
was looking to bounce back from just 11 points in the first matchup
of the season. Isaac Dewberry came off the bench to supply a spark
as well including a high reaching offensive rebound and putback over
Smith to give the lead back to Lincoln at 15-14.
After the teams traded baskets, the game was delayed for a few
minutes as trainers attended to Mt. Zion’s Greg Hart who got tangled
up with Lincoln’s Jermaine Hamlin and crashed to the floor, landing
hard on the back of his head, a sound that was audible in the entire
gym. Hart immediately rolled over on his stomach where he stayed
until staff from each team got to him. Hart finally was helped to
his feet and to the bench, but would not return to the game.
Dewberry added to the Lincoln lead with a three-pointer before Smith
answered from the top of the key. The Railers took a three point
lead of 22-19 into halftime as they ran their end of quarter set to
perfection. As time ticked down, Drew Bacon found himself wide open
under the basket where he was found open and converted the layup.
[to top of second column]
In the second half, scoring was, well, at a premium. The Lincoln
defense has been playing out of this world during their six game
winning streak, but Tuesday night added just more superlatives to
the mix. Four points. That’s all, just four points for Mt. Zion.
During the second half, Lincoln used a 15-2 run to take control of
the game. But, it was not your typical Railer Run. Most Railer
outbursts of this size happen over a three-four minute span, but not
this one. It was like running uphill in molasses during a wind
storm. It was certainly a grind, but Mt. Zion, even when not
scoring, can do that to you.
“They play tough. They are tough and very disciplined,” Alexander
said. “I don’t think we played exceptionally well, but we did enough
and got the win. And, 11 of 17 for free throws, that’s still not
very good, but better than it’s been. You make a few more of them
and it’s not as close as the fourteen points.”
Lincoln’s only baskets of the second half came at the early outset
of the half on a 16-footer from Grunder while Cannon started the
fourth with a driving layup and conversion of a three point play.
But, tonight, it was from the line where Lincoln picked up the win,
thanks in large part to the combined 8-9 from Grunder and Cannon in
the second half. Another bonus for the defense was holding Smith to
single digit scoring of just eight points.
Grunder led with 14 points while Bowers scored eight. His eight
points leaves him tied with Ben Brackney for 13th all-time with 1221
points. Cannon added seven with Dewberry scoring five, Bacon adding
two and Hamlin chipping in with a free throw.
The Railers are back in action on the road this Friday as they
travel to Effingham. Lincoln owns a 63-43 win in the first matchup
of the season. The sophomores will tip at 6 with the varsity action
beginning around 730. The sophomores continue to roll with a 64-41
win over Mt. Zion on Tuesday. Lincoln will look to stay perfect on
the road as they are 6-0 in true road games this season. A win would
also put them one step closer to a goal that has taken four years to
“This group of seniors has not won a regional or a conference
championship so there is some bite to them, wanting to get that
done,” Alexander said. Well, the regionals will have to wait a while
but the conference title can get closer with another outstanding
showing of the defense on Friday in Effingham.
Grunder 4-11 5-6 14, Bowers 2-7 2-6 8, Cannon 2-7 3-3 7, Dewberry
2-4 0-0 5, Bacon 1-1 0-0 2, Hamlin 0-0 1-2 1, Sloan 0-2 0-0 0,
Froebe 0-0 0-0 0, Pozsgai 0-0 0-0 0, Whiteman 0-0 0-0 0, Singleton
0-1 0-0 0, Funk 0-0 0-0 0. TEAM 11 11-17 37. 3pt FG 4-18 (Bowers
2-6, Grunder 1-3, Dewberry 1-3, Sloan 0-1, Cannon 0-5,). Rebounds 22
(Dewberry 7, Assists 5 (Cannon 4), Steals 6 (Bowers 3), Turnovers 8.
MT ZION (23)
Smith 8, Durand 4, Bender 4, Marquardt 3, Binder 2, London 2. TEAM
10-35 0-2 23, 3pt FG 3-18 (Smith 2, Marquardt) Rebounds 18, Assists
3, Steals 4, Turnovers 13.
LCHS 11-11-5-10 37
MT ZION 7-12-2-2 23
[by Jeff Benjamin]