Alexander gets win #800 as Railers grab share of conference crown
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[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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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,
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]