Alexander gets win #800 as Railers grab share of conference crown

Send a link to a friend  Share

[February 10, 2018]  On 799 previous occasions, Lincoln coach Neil Alexander has walked off the floor with his team on the winning side. Some have been 40 point plus blowouts while others have gone multiple overtimes. But for Coach Alexander, it’s not about the other 799 or whichever will be number 801. He is concerned only about the game at hand. On Friday night, Effingham looked as though they were going to spoil the party and prevent number 800.

Trailing for much of the first three quarters, the Lincoln Railers were able to put together a game-closing 13-3 run to claim a 45-36 win over the Flaming Hearts. The gives Lincoln a 20-5 record, the 34th 20-win season in school history. The 10-1 mark in the Apollo keeps them atop the standings and guarantees no worse than a tie for the title, a championship they can win outright with a win on Friday night in Taylorville. And, oh yes, win number 800 for Coach Alexander.

“I don’t do it for the wins, I do it because I like being with the players,” Alexander said after being asked to reflect on the milestone. “They keep me young and I still like what I do. But, all the number means is I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve had really good players. Without the players, there aren’t the wins.”

The numbers are quite staggering. Alexander is now the fifth coach in IHSA history with 800 wins and now owns an overall record of 800-391 (.672) with a mark of 641-216 (.748) as coach of the Railers. Again, all those numbers are great and Alexander is a man who would rather deflect all the accolades to his team. But, for Effingham, they almost forced a postponement of the celebration because no one told them they were supposed to just lie down and let Lincoln win. And for much of the night, it looked as though the Railers were ripe for the upset.

You just felt it was going to be one of those nights when just 52 seconds into the game, senior Ben Grunder picked up his second foul and headed to the bench, a spot he would keep for the rest of the half. His replacement, junior Jermaine Hamlin, joined him about three and a half minutes later with his second foul. It was a situation that certainly caused issues, especially on defense. “Those two are two of our better defenders. Jermaine really causes problems on the inside and Ben is important as one of our wings,” Alexander said. “Without those two, it really changes our defense. You saw the difference when they were out there in the second half.”

But, for the first half, Effingham was in control. Except for a brief 3-2 lead after a Drew Bacon three, the Flaming Hearts were controlling the tempo mainly behind the shooting of junior Landon Wolfe. In the first matchup, Wolfe had 26 points and looked to be well on his way to a repeat performance. Wolfe and Mason Hull led a barrage of threes giving the Hearts an early 16-9 lead. The Railers caught a break when Isaiah Bowers was fouled in the corner on a three point attempt near the end of the period. Bowers made all three to cut the deficit to 16-12 heading into the second quarter.

With Lincoln down 22-15 and searching for any offense, especially dealing with the early foul trouble, Bowers drove the lane to cut the margin to five. A wide open jumper from Wolfe pushed the lead back to 24-17 and gave Wolfe 13 for the first half. Still searching for scoring answers, Alexander went to sophomore Kameron Whiteman. Indicative of someone that has won 800 games, sometimes you just push the right buttons. As time ticked down in the first half, the Railers ran a set for the sophomore who connected for a three from the right wing to bring the Railers within four at halftime.

Foul trouble, pour shooting, some questionable calls (to be fair, both ways), along with the long bus ride and, with all that,, being only down four left the Railers feeling rather fortunate. We may never know just how big that Whiteman three was heading into the half.

Lincoln fell behind again by six on an early basket from Effingham. This was their house and they could make their season by spoiling Lincoln’s conference party. But, things finally started to turn around. After a running floater in the lane from Tate Sloan and a put back on an offensive rebound from Bacon, the Railers had cut the deficit to just two. With 3:15 left in the third, Bowers brought the Railers back to even at 26 with a 12-foot jumper from the baseline.

Hamlin, who would lead the Railers with 13 points, split a pair of free throws to give Lincoln the lead at 27-26. A basket from Effingham swung the lead back to them before Hamlin repeated his free throw performance from earlier, leaving the game tied at 28 going to the fourth.

 [to top of second column]

Bacon gave the lead back to Lincoln on a strong drive to the basket only to see Effingham tie the game on a back door layup from Matt Robinson. Unfortunately for Effingham, Robinson would play a key role in the end moments for the hosts. A basket from Hamlin in the lane gave Lincoln the 32-30 lead. Hamlin then provided what, for a few seconds, looked like a huge momentum swinging defensive play. The 6’9” junior blocked a layup attempt only to see the ball trickle out to Hull, who swished a three from the top of the key giving the Hearts a 33-32 lead.

From there, it was all Lincoln, and most of it from the free throw line.

Hamlin sank a pair of free throws before Grunder made one of two to put Lincoln in front 35-33. After another basket from Hamlin made it 37-33, he was sent to the line again where he made the first and missed the second. However, with the Railers up 38-33, it was Titus Cannon coming up with one of the big rebounds of the night to keep the possession with the Railers. With 1:48 left, the point guard was fouled but missed the front end of the one and bonus leaving opportunity knocking for Effingham.

Up until that point, the Railers had held Wolfe scoreless in the second half, greatly attributed to the defense being back intact with the return of Hamlin and Grunder. But, as great of a shooter as he is, Wolfe somehow found an opening against the Lincoln defense and drilled a three with 1:21 left to cut the lead to two. When Grunder split another set of free throws, and yes, there were more free throw issues for Lincoln as they went 18 of 26 on the night, the Railers were up 39-36. The next few moments will not be remembered fondly for Effingham’s Robinson. After Ryan Sandifer was fouled with 54 seconds left, he sank the first free throw. However, Robinson was called for a lane violation that wiped out the shot and gave the ball back to Lincoln.

After getting the ball into the frontcourt, the Railers attempted to play keep away with the three point lead. Effingham coach Rem Woodruff signaled from the bench for his team to foul. It was Robinson that ran to the corner occupied by Hamlin and Robinson simply put his arms around the Lincoln junior and was whistled for an intentional foul. Hamlin sank both free throws with 38 seconds left and a 41-36 lead. From that point forward, it felt as though Effingham had seen their chances for the upset disappear. The Railers finished off the win at the free throw line and the nine point victory.

Hamlin was the only Railer in double figures with his 13 points while Bowers finished with eight. Bacon added seven on the night with Cannon and Isaac Dewberry each scoring five. Whiteman’s big three was his only basket while Grunder and Sloan chipped in with two.

The NBA-like road trip continues with three road games next week. Before the Railers travel to Taylorville on Friday and Decatur on Saturday, Lincoln has a Tuesday night matchup with Bloomington. Game time is set for 7:30pm with the sophomores tipping at 6:00pm. Although Bloomington has found themselves short due to injuries, they are still a tough 4A opponent and will give the coaches voting on the IHSA seeds one last look before the voting takes place next week. With Lanphier and Southeast in the same sectional, it will be hard for the Railers to climb above a three seed. But, a win over Bloomington would certainly give the voters something to think about.

Of course, it goes without saying but a huge “Congratulations!” to Coach Alexander on win number 800. Starting Tuesday, it’s time to start working on the next 800.


Hamlin 3 7-10 13, Bowers 2 4-5 8, Bacon 3 0-0 7, Cannon 0 5-7 5, Dewberry 2 0-0 5, Whiteman 1 0-0 3, Sloan 1 0-0 2, Grunder 0 2-4 2, Holliday 0 0-0 0. TEAM 12 18-26 45. 3pt FG 3 (Bacon, Dewberry, Whiteman).


Wolfe 16, Hull 13, Robinson 4, Marxman 2, Sandifer 1. TEAM 14 2-8 36. 3pt FG 6 (Wolfe 3, Hull 3).

LCHS 12-8-8-17 45
EFFINGHAM 16-8-4-8 36

[by Jeff Benjamin]


Back to top