Career night from Grunder leads Railers
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[February 14, 2018]
If I’m being perfectly honest
with you, if you would have told me that after the
Lincoln-Bloomington game on Tuesday night, one player on the winning
squad would have scored 30 points, most of them from in the lane or
at the free throw line, I would have been worried. Or, if that same
player would have showed more aggressiveness and intensity than
anyone on the opposing team, yes, I would have been concerned.
Well, here’s to being surprised.
Lincoln senior Ben Grunder had a career game on Tuesday night with
30 points, including 14 of 16 from the free throw line, as the
Railers pulled out a hard fought win over Bloomington 53-45. Grunder
scored 20 in the second half while Bloomington’s top player, Chris
Payton, was held down by the Lincoln defense, scoring only 13 points
on the night. I don’t know if Grunder will have a better game at
Lincoln but this one was certainly memorable.
“Ben was something tonight, I don’t know what I can say about how he
played,” Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said after the contest. “He
was intense in everything he did, defense, shooting, driving the
lane, rebounding. He took it to their bigs and wasn’t intimidated at
Grunder and fellow senior Isaiah Bowers combined for all of
Lincoln’s 22 first half points as the Railers held a five point lead
at the break. In the early going, both teams went back and forth in
a game played at Lincoln’s pace. Coming in to the contest, the
Railers were allowing an average of 35 points a game while
Bloomington was putting up at least 70. With both teams swapping a
pair of baskets, Bloomington’s Donzell Johnson hit a three to give
the lead back to the Purple Raiders at 7-4. After a score from
Bowers cut the lead to one, Grunder drained a three to give Lincoln
their first advantage of the night at 9-7. It was also the last time
the lead would change in the game.
Bowers and Grunder started a 12-0 run for the Railers fueled, no
shocker here, by the Lincoln defense. The quick hands of the Railers
forced turnover after turnover not allowing Bloomington to find any
pace on the offensive end. Although the two seniors led in the first
half offense, on the night, the team played as well as we have seen
“I am so proud of how they played tonight,” Alexander boasted. “If
we play this way, we will be tough to beat by anyone. I tell them
over and over about how being mentally focused is so important.
Being mentally focused gets you to ready to play defense like we did
tonight, shoot free throws – mental, and rebound, we were tough and
strong and physical on the boards, all because we were mentally
focused and ready to play tonight.”
The Railers 9-7 lead carried them into the early stages of the
second quarter when the defense kept the momentum. After a missed
shot and Bloomington rebound, Bowers was able to sneak up from
behind, grab a steal and get a layup and foul. His three point play
stretched the margin to 12-7. Bowers continued to show his
leadership as his three pointer pushed the lead to 16-7.
Bloomington’s Chris Payton was held scoreless in the first quarter
as the Lincoln defense concentrated on where he was at all times.
Many times, you would see two and three Lincoln players around him
making sure he did not get the ball easily on offense. However, he
would not be held down altogether as he hit a couple of free throws
with 5:41 left in the first for his first points.
As quickly as the lead had grown, the Railers watched the lead
dwindle as Payton took a steal in for an easy two and it felt as
though their best player was waking from his slumber. Grunder made
two of three free throws after being fouled on a long jumper before
another three from Johnson and basket inside from Payton cut the
lead to 18-16. A Bowers free throw got the lead back to three and
his miss on the second turned out to be in Lincoln’s favor as senior
guard Titus Cannon came from nowhere to retain possession on the
offensive rebound. The ball worked its way to Grunder who hit his
second three of the night and completed an unconventional four-point
play to push the margin back to six at 22-16. Payton’s split free
throws sent the teams to the locker room with Lincoln up 22-17.
On defense, giving up 35 points a game would mean that the 17 first
half points for Bloomington (17-7) was right where Lincoln would
want them. However, a realistic fan would tell you that Bloomington
would have a run, find their way, something because they wouldn’t be
held down like that in the second half. Well, it wasn’t 17 points in
the second, but the effort was outstanding.
Payton picked up two fouls in the first half and in the early
portion of the third quarter, he seemed to play as though he had
four. Anytime Lincoln would drive to the basket, he seemed more
inclined to back off and let the Railers score. Grunder took
advantage first with a layup past Payton. After a Bloomington score,
Grunder was again fouled shooting a three where this time he
capitalized and connected on all three. A drive by Cannon over
Payton and a three from Bowers had quickly moved the lead to 13 at
32-19. The Purple Raiders were in danger of getting blown out in
their own gym.
[to top of second column]
But, this is a team that finished second in state last year and they
have had their mettle tested before. Bloomington turned up the
defensive pressure and put together an 8-0 run of their own to climb
back within five at 32-27. Grunder again stepped up by getting
fouled and converting at the line hitting his next four. With the
Railers (21-5) up 36-29, it was Jermaine Hamlin who scored from the
low post shot over Payton to take the Railers to the fourth up
Talk about intense. Each quarter seemed to be turned up little by
little. It was a great game and, although some in the crowd on both
sides may have felt there were some calls left on the floor, in the
end, it did not bother Alexander. “This crew, they have all worked
state finals and they know how to handle a game. They called this
game, not like a regional but a sectional. This is the type of game
you are going to get in the tournament. You’ve got to earn it out
After more Grunder free throws got Lincoln up 39-31, Bloomington’s
Patrick Fisher hit a three but, as was shown time and again on
Tuesday, the Railers had a counter. Another strong drive by Cannon
and free throws from Grunder got the lead back to nine. The lead
stretched to double figures when Grunder scored to make it 45-35.
Bloomington had one more run left in them, so would the Railers be
able to withstand the extra pressure.
With the Railers up 45-37, a Lincoln layup ended up as a big block
for Payton. The turnover found its way to Fisher who hit his second
three of the night. Another quick turnover for the Railers saw a
layup converted for Fisher and before you could blink twice, it was
now a one possession game at 45-42. The Railers stemmed the run as
Drew Bacon tossed a baseline floater over the outstretched arms of
the Bloomington defense that teased with bouncing out but the
Railers got the friendly bounce and a five point lead. Bloomington
cut the game back to three at 47-44 but it was that man Grunder
Lincoln’s last two field goals came from Grunder, the last a driving
left hand layup that left the Bloomington defense confused and
beaten. Fittingly, it was Grunder’s two free throws with 38 seconds
left that sealed the win and the final score of 53-45.
The Railers remain a perfect 8-0 on the road with the win, a win
that is more impressive than any this season. Lincoln showed they
will be a force to reckon with when tournament play starts no matter
the seed they are given. “Well, I don’t know if we’ve done enough to
get a one or two over Lanphier and Southeast but I think it
definitely solidified us as the number three seed,” Alexander said.
“We still have some work to do, but I think we will get the three
over MacArthur who has been playing pretty well as of late.” The
IHSA seeds are expected to be announced Thursday afternoon with the
pairings released the following day.
You may not have noticed but Ben Grunder had an OK night. The senior
led with his career best of 30 points while Bowers added 15. Cannon
scored four with Bacon and Hamlin each chipping in with two, all of
The Railers are next in action on Friday with a chance to clinch the
Apollo title with a win at Taylorville. You can tell how important
it is for Alexander and the Railers to go there, get the win, and
claim the title without any help. The Tornadoes have been playing
well, especially since Christmas so this will be another in a long
line of not-so-easy games for the Railers. Game time is set for 7:30
with the sophomores leading things off at 6:00. The sophomores
claimed a tough win 41-38 as Kaden Froebe’s steal and layup with 46
seconds left broke a tie and then the sophomore sank four from the
line in the game’s final ten seconds to secure the win.
Grunder 7 14-16 30, Bowers 5 3-5 15, Cannon 2 0-0 4, Bacon 1 0-0 2,
Hamlin 1 0-0 2, Sloan 0 0-0 0, Dewberry 0 0-0 0, Whiteman 0 0-0 0.
TEAM 16 17-21 53. 3pt FG 4 (Grunder 2, Bowers 2).
Payton 13, Fisher 13, Johnson 10, Pugh 4, Washington 3, Ware 2. TEAM
14 13-17 45. 3pt FG 4 (Fisher 2, Johnson 2).
LCHS 9-13-16-15 53
BLOOMINGTON 7-10-12-16 45
[by Jeff Benjamin]