Defense leads Railers to first win in 2018

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[January 23, 2018]  With the dedication of the court at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium in honor of Lincoln coach Neil Alexander on Saturday night, it would be easy to expect the Railers to have an abundance of emotion, something that can actually work against you. Following the ceremony between games, Lincoln was tasked with taking on an opponent from the Chicago Public League in the Falcons from Chicago Harlan. Instead of Lincoln trying to reel themselves in from the emotion, the Falcons were the ones slowing things down. However, in the end, the Railers defense made enough plays to knock off the Falcons 45-25.

“Our defense has to lead to offense if we are going to be successful,” Alexander said after the game. “The traps in the corners worked well tonight.” It was that defense that sparked a 12-2 run to end the game, a victory that improves the Lincoln record to 12-3. The defense that forced 24 turnovers and held the Falcons to 40 percent shooting was responsible for holding another team to under 30 points. Well, at least partially responsible.

“The style of play they ran tonight, yeah, they scored 25 points and we get credit for it,” Alexander said, “but they really held themselves down with that style. I mean, to get the opening tip and pass the ball around 30 times, that’s not the most exciting way to start a game, but that was their game plan.”

No, Coach wasn’t exaggerating. After the Falcons (7-7) grabbed the opening possession, it took 1:48 before a travel started the counter on the Harlan turnover counter. After a couple of misses from the Railers, Harlan’s D’Carius Davis sank a three to put the Falcons on top 3-0. Now, I’ve already mentioned that Harlan had their difficulties in shooting. The Lincoln marksmanship was not much better, hitting on 17 of 40 (42.5 percent) for the evening, and just 1 of 12 from three point range. Where Lincoln did have success, at least early, was in the lane. The Railers made their first four shots in the lane, jumping out to an 8-3 lead in the second quarter.

Lincoln’s first two baskets came on 15-foot and 9-foot shots in the lane from Isaiah Bowers. You could have won a lot of bets on Saturday night claiming Bowers would be held to just those two scores on the night as he finished 2 of 13 from the field. By no means was he forcing shots, it was just one of those nights where he wasn’t getting the bounces. Fortunately, as a good team does, others stepped up.

After Ben Grunder’s basket gave the Railers the five point advantage, Harlan was able to come back and eventually tie the game on a three by Eddie Niles, Jr. The 8-8 score lasted until the latter stages of the second quarter when Titus Cannon split a pair of free throws to give Lincoln a slim one-point lead at halftime. It was the combination of those two that would take the lead and get the Railers the win.

Lincoln used a 12-2 run to start the third to run out to a 21-10 lead. The offense seemed to pick up after the halftime break, possible a result of not wanting to practice more defense during the week. “The halftime talk was pretty simple. If we’re not shoot and score, we’re wasting all that time shooting,” Alexander said. “We spend a lot of time shooting the basketball in practice, we might as well spend the time on defense, the extra 30 to 40 minutes on defense.”

Imagine if they did practice defense more. As good as they’ve been playing, they could be even more dominant. On Saturday night, when Lincoln was turning defense to offense, it was happening quick and the points were coming in bunches. After Grunder scored on an offensive rebound, that was followed by an immediate steal by Tate Sloan who fed Cannon for the basket. Up 15-8, the Falcons finally were able to get into the frontcourt and to the basket getting a basket from Tim Turner. Grunder got the momentum back for Lincoln on a 15-footer, followed by Sloan scoring on a layup after a steal by Cannon, who returned the favor from earlier. A reverse layup from Drew Bacon pushed the Railer advantage to double figures for the first time at 21-10.

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After a three point play, Cannon answered back with one of his own on a strong drive to the basket while being fouled. His free throw put the lead back to 11 heading into the fourth. The Railers turned up the offense in the fourth as the Falcons were willing to shoot quicker, hoping to find their way back into the game. The Railers and Falcons alternated points to the midway point of the fourth including five points in a row from Colton Holliday off the bench. A basket from Grunder on a drive down the baseline put Lincoln on top 33-20 before Niles hit his second three of the night to cut the margin to ten.

Grunder sank a pair of free throws before making a steal and looking ahead to an aware Cannon who read the steal, went to the basket, and scored courtesy of Grunder’s defense. The woes for the Falcons continued on their offensive end with miss after miss and more turnovers thanks to the Lincoln trapping defense. With 1:46 left, Sloan sank Lincoln’s first three of the night for a 40-23 lead. After a Harlan score stopped the bleeding, Grunder hit two more free throws before Bacon’s three point play ended the night’s scoring and a convincing twenty point win. Aside from the win, a big positive for the Railers was a turn from the norm of the poor free throw shooting that has hassled the team this season. After missing three of their first four, Lincoln ended the game making nine in a row to secure the win.

However, Coach Alexander was, in typical fashion, placing the blame on himself for the team’s sluggish beginning. “I was more nervous about the pre-game things than I was the game and that’s not fair to our kids. I take blame for some of the things that we did in the first half.”

Lincoln was led in scoring by 12 apiece from Titus Cannon and Ben Grunder while Drew Bacon added a season high 7 points. Tate Sloan and Colton Holliday each added five with Isaiah Bowers scoring four. Holliday led the Railers with 7 rebounds while Bowers stood out on defense with 7 steals.

The Railers are back in action on Friday night as they travel to Charleston for a return to Apollo Conference action. Tip time is scheduled for 7:30 with the sophomores starting at 6:00pm. The sophomore squad fell 34-32 on Saturday night.


Cannon 4-6 4-5 12, Grunder 4-7 4-4 12, Bacon 3-4 1-1 7, Sloan 2-3 0-0 5, Holliday 2-4 1-3 5, Bowers 2-13 0-0 4, Dewberry 0-3 0-0 0. TEAM 17-40 10-13 45. 3pt Fg 1-12 (Sloan 1-2, Grunder 0-1, Cannon 0-2, Dewberry 0-3, Bowers 0-4). Rebounds 19 (Holliday 7), Assists 8 (Cannon 3), Steals 19 (Bowers 7), Turnovers 8.


Davis 7, Turner 6, Niles 6, Dobine 4, Turnbo 2. TEAM 10-25 2-4 25. 3pt FG 3-12 (Niles 2, Davis). Rebounds 20, Assists 5, Steals 6, Turnovers 24.

HARLAN 3-5-5-12 25
LCHS 6-3-15-21 45

[by Jeff Benjamin]

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