Railers end regular season with comeback victory
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[February 24, 2018]
It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t
stylish. It wasn’t a pair of offensive juggernauts battling it out.
In the end, what it was, was a good basketball game that came down
to a defensive play in the final seconds to preserve the win.
Just like Senior Night is supposed to go.
After training by eight in the first quarter, the Lincoln Railers
battled their way back in the second half thanks to suffocating
defense along with Isaiah Bowers scoring 15 of his game high 20
points to lead the Railers to a 37-34 win over Normal West and
highly touted junior Francis Okoro. It was certainly a team victory
as everyone played a key role in one way or another, a trend that is
just fine with the Railers.
“We have a lot of different pieces that fit just the way they do,”
Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said after career win number 804.
“Everyone does what they are supposed to and it fits. They may not
score or block a shot but when everyone does their job, we can stay
in out game. We didn’t get a lot of good looks, well, wait, we did
get good looks, we just didn’t get them to fall. That is a tough
defense to play against, a good team, and I think they are going to
make some noise (in the tournament).”
In the end, it was Lincoln that made a big shot and then came up big
on defense to preserve the win. After Jermaine Hamlin put Lincoln up
32-29 with a three-point play with 1:13 remaining and a pair of free
throws from West’s Nate Duckworth cut the lead back to one, Ben
Grunder got an open look in the right corner, never hesitated and
drilled a three-point to push the lead to 35-31. It was a shot that
elicited reactions from the bench of “oh no” to “great shot.” It was
Grunder’s only score of the night but it could not have come at a
more opportune time.
Normal’s Shea Cupples connected for his third three of the quarter,
a quarter in which the Railers held Okoro scoreless, the pull the
Wildcats (21-7) back within one. After Titus Cannon missed the front
end of a one and one with 30 seconds left, it seemed the visitors
were poised to hold for the last shot. After running the clock down,
the ball trickled free and seemed as though the Railers were going
to escape with the possession. However, the Wildcats were able to
reach in and force a held ball, retaining possession. After a miss,
Tate Sloan was fouled and went to the line for a chance to extend
the lead. Sloan missed, sending the Railers quickly back on defense
with seven seconds left.
Instead of thinking about the miss, Sloan recovered to gain the
defensive advantage and when Duckworth extended his lead arm,
forcing Sloan back, the sideline official whistled an offensive foul
on Duckworth giving the ball back to Lincoln with three seconds
left. The real trick was now inbounding the ball. Normal’s plan was
to make it as difficult as possible by using Okoro to guard the
inbounder (remember this for later). First, the Railers tried
Grunder to trigger the play. Not only did Okoro make it difficult
but the ball was being inbounded between the Normal West bench and
the edge of the scorer’s table. Public address announcer Cameron
Kurtz was as close to the play as anyone.
With Grunder unable to find anyone and a Lincoln timeout, Alexander
switched to Sloan for the inbounds. Once again, the Railers were
forced to take a timeout. Third time was the charm as Sloan found
Bowers in the front court where he was fouled with 2.2 seconds to
go. Up to that point, it had been a rough night for Lincoln (24-5)
at the free throw line hitting on just 1 of 5. But these were the
ones that mattered. Bowers calmly sank the first one and then banked
in the second, a play that made you wonder if it was planned to
maybe miss it. When asked, Alexander said he didn’t tell him to miss
So, the game had come to this. After Bowers put Lincoln up 37-34,
Alexander called a timeout to set up his defense. It was a difficult
call as Normal West was out of timeouts but it would allow them to
set up a play. Lincoln was now going to return the favor. Remember
how difficult it can be to inbounds around a 6’9” defender? Well,
the Wildcats got a taste of their own medicine, only this time it
worked. As Normal West slid along the baseline, trying to make the
inbounds pass, Hamlin extended his massive wingspan enough to tip
the pass, causing it to flutter in the backcourt and picked up by
the Railers to preserve the win. What a surprise. Lincoln wins with
“The way our offense was, if we don’t play defense like we know we
can, we get blown out of the gym,” Alexander said. “They say defense
wins championships and what I like most about our team is that we
have been solid. We may have nights, like tonight, where the shots
don’t fall but our defense is always there.”
Things didn’t look rosy early on as Normal West built an early 12-4
lead. Okoro, one of the top recruits in the country started the
scoring with a dunk. Among others on hand to watch the contest was
University of Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. Dealing with
Okoro’s size inside would fall to the duo of Hamlin and Drew Bacon.
However, Bacon had to sit early after picking up his second foul
with 5:25 left in the first quarter. After Bowers got Lincoln on the
board and another score from Normal West, Hamlin took a lob pass
from Bowers and scored on the lay-in. A 6-0 run from the Wildcats
stretched the lead to eight at 12-4. During the run, Lincoln simply
could not handle the basketball. One turnover or missed shot after
another kept Normal West in control. Lincoln was able to draw closer
on a three from Cannon as the lead was cut to 12-7 at the end of
one. Throughout this 11-game winning streak, Cannon has come up with
some big shots for the Railers.
[to top of second column]
A three from Bowers pulled Lincoln within two at 12-10 in the early
stages of the second. A score from Duckworth pushed the deficit back
to four. Let’s just say offense was hard to come by in the second as
the teams combined for just those five points.
The Railers looked much more in synch in the second half with better
ball movement and shooting. A 12-footer from the baseline by Bowers
pulled Lincoln within two. “Our shots were just not falling early.
That defense of theirs is tough,” Alexander said. “What they do is
make you shoot quick so you’ve got to be ready.” A three-point play
from Okoro moved the lead to 17-12. Again, the aggressive play of
the Railers got them back to even after Cannon hit another big
three, Bowers tied the game on a steal and driving layup.
Even at 17, West went back up by four at 21-17. Sophomore Isaac
Dewberry made his presence felt with a three from the top of the
key. Free throws from Okoro sent the game to the fourth with the
Wildcats holding a three point lead at 23-20.
In his last game at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium, Bowers took over in
the fourth scoring 11 of Lincoln’s 17 points. His three tied the
game at 23 while his 15-footer with 5:52 left gave the Railers their
first lead of the evening at 25-23. Cupples quickly answered with a
three to swing the advantage back to Normal West at 26-25. Bowers
hit more shots before Cupples tied the game with another three at
Bowers led the way with 20 points while Cannon added six. Hamllin
scored five with Grunder and Dewberry each adding three.
So, now everybody is back to even. With the regular season over,
attention turns to the state tournament with regional play beginning
next week. The Railers will play Wednesday night at 7:00pm against
either SHG or Jacksonville. Their matchup is Monday night. If the
Railers win they will advance to the regional final set for Friday
night. But, one game at a time. There have been games this season
that gave you pause and concern about Lincoln’s chances in the
postseason. During this 11-game winning streak, I not sure any team
in the state, no matter their enrollment classification, that is
playing better defense than Lincoln and, as mentioned by Coach Al
previously “defense wins championships.” Wins is certainly something
Alexander knows about as, before the game, he was presented with a
plaque commemorating his 800th career earlier this month at
I also want to take a moment to say thank you as well. For those
that may not know, this is my 17th and final season doing the Railer
broadcasts for WLCN. With our daughter, who was also celebrating her
Senior Night as well, heading off to college, I want to make sure I
am as available as possible to meld with her schedule. There may be
some nights I would not be able to do the broadcasts and I want
Railer Nation to have that consistent voice. My thank you goes out
to the Railer Nation community for the plaque I was presented with
before the game. It was certainly appreciated and I want to say
thank you to all who have been a part of the journey. Once the
season ends, I will have some more thoughts and thanks. But for now,
let’s hope my final broadcast can wait.
Hopefully, all of Railer Nation can make it to Rochester midweek.
The road to Peoria starts there and the countdown is seven. Let’s
hope there are seven more victories to talk about. Of course, let’s
just worry about them one at a time.
Bowers 8 2-2 20, Cannon 2 0-1 6, Hamllin 2 1-3 5, Grunder 1 0-0 3,
Dewberry 1 0-0 3, Sloan 0 0-1 0, Bacon 0 0-0 0, Whiteman 0 0-0 0.
TEAM 14 3-7 37. 3pt FG 6 (Cannon 2, Bowers 2, Grunder, Dewberry).
NORMAL WEST (34)
Okoro 11, S.Cupples 9, Duckworth 8, Wollenschlager 6. TEAM 11 9-11
34. 3pt FG 3 (Cupples 3).
LCHS 7-3-10-17 37
NORMAL WEST 12-2-9-11 34
- Isaiah Bowers is tied for 2nd in games played at 125 with Brandon
Farmer, Jordan Nelson, and Gavin Block.
- With the win, in related categories, Lincoln is now
o 3-2 when trailing at the half
o 3-5 when they have fewer free throw attempts
o 2-2 when scoring less than 40 points
o 19-1 when holding opponents to under 40 points
o 11-2 on Fridays
o 8-0 in February
o 15-2 when making 4-6 threes in a game
o 13-3 while wearing the White uniforms
o 17-3 when there is one Railer in double figures
o 11-4 in home games
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