Slow quarter starts doom Railers in overtime

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[January 23, 2018]  It’s always nice for a team to get off to a good start in each quarter, a chance to set the tone for the rest of the period, forcing the other team to play catch up often. On Saturday night, the Washington Panthers excelled in putting the Lincoln Railers behind the eight ball in the first and second quarters as well as overtime to hand the Railers a 61-52 loss in the first game of the Central Illinois Mid-Winter Classic.

The Washington runs at the beginning of each of the referenced periods totaled 33-0 including a 14-0 run to start overtime, leaving the Railers shaking their heads at the second straight overtime loss. Even though Lincoln was able to battle back from down 16, even taking the lead for a moment in the fourth, Washington did enough right to take the win. The 7-10 record Washington came into the game with was certainly not representative of the game they would play and the Railers suffered too many droughts to come away with the victory.

“This is what can happen when you don’t practice hard,” a disappointed Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said after the game. “I don’t think we came out ready to play and you’ve got to practice hard so you can play hard. We have to play and practice with more focus.”

This was certainly a game of runs, of which Washington had more at the critical points of the game. Lincoln needed a 20-3 run to take their only lead of the game at 40-39 but may have used all their energy in doing so because by the time overtime rolled around, it was Washington with the energy and advantage.

Lincoln’s Ben Grunder did what he could to keep the Railers in the contest, but a total team effort from the Panthers gave them the nine-point win. Grunder got the Railers on the board with 2:55 left in the first quarter on a conventional three-point play but only after Washington had jumped out to a 7-0 lead. The second three of the quarter from Washington’s Adrian Ware pushed the lead back to 10-5 before a basket from Jermaine Hamlin cut the lead back to three. Ball handling issues plagued the Panthers late in the quarter allowing the Railers to climb back into the contest and Isaiah Bowers took advantage with a three from the left corner in the waning seconds of the quarter to knot the game at 10. As sudden as the Panthers had jumped out to the lead, being tied after the first seemed like a win.

Another quarter starting spurt put the Railers behind again as Washington ran off a quick ten points. When Ware’s third three went down, Alexander was forced to call a timeout with 4:11 to go and his Railers down 20-10. After another Washington score, it was Grunder again to stop the run with a basket at the 1:32 mark. Grunder continued his scoring to cut the margin to eight at 22-14 but as Lincoln’s luck had been going, Ware struck one more time, this time as the first half clock was expiring. Ware threw one in from just in front of the volleyball line to give the Panthers the 25-14 halftime lead.

With more focus being placed on the whereabouts of Ware, Washington turned to the long range shooting of Devon Vanderheydt. The freshman hit his first two attempts from behind the arc to keep Lincoln at bay 31-17, Lincoln’s points coming from a three from Grunder. Grunder’s second three pulled Lincoln within 33-20 before Adrian Williams converted an offensive rebound into a three-point play. Williams may not have been the Panthers’ top scorer but may have been the difference on Saturday with his 12 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists. Combine that with having the task of guarding and stopping Bowers, who he held to seven points, Williams was a true difference maker.

If the Railers were going to have any chance of making a game of it, they too would need a difference maker. Luckily, they found one but not where you would expect. Senior Tate Sloan would be the spark to lead the comeback. With Lincoln down 36-20, Sloan started the comeback with an easy score off an out of bounds play. A turnover by Washington turned into a one on five break where Bowers found a seam and the score. With Sloan leading at the point of the defense, another steal turned into another layup for Sloan and Lincoln was down just 36-26.

After another steal, Sloan found himself wide open near the left wing. Most would drive to the basket but this team needed a big shot and Sloan delivered with a three that brought Lincoln with seven. Lincoln had turned up the pressure but overplayed on the next possession as the defense did not rotate to find an open J.J. Guedet who scored from point blank range to stretch the lead back to 38-29. It was only fitting that one more steal led to another Sloan basket and the Railers had all the momentum heading into the fourth down just seven.

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Lincoln (13-5) was the team to have the hot start at the beginning of a quarter as Hamlin threw down a huge dunk before a steal and layup from Bowers brought the contest to a one possession game at 38-35. A free throw from Guedet slowed the run, but did not stop it. Grunder sank a pair of free throws before he drained a three at the 4:29 mark as the Railers had completed the comeback to take their first and only lead of the evening. Guedet was heard from again as his basket gave the lead back to Washington and Williams sank a pair of free throws to push the lead back to three at 43-40.

For much of the night, Washington’s Guedet played his defense right in the middle of the lane, allowing the player he was guarding to roam free and not be guarded. In most cases that player was Drew Bacon. The senior made the Panthers pay when he tied the game with a three at the 1:18 point of the fourth. Washington had their chance to win the game in regulation but Ware missed the front end of a one and one with 42 seconds to go, giving Lincoln a chance to get a big win at home.

After a timeout at 13 seconds, Lincoln ran a play with Grunder taking a baseline jumper that missed the mark and sent the game into overtime. And overtime belonged to Washington.

Scoring the most points of any period on Saturday, the Panthers outscored Lincoln 18-9, including a 14-0 to put the game out of reach quickly in the extra session. Washington won the opening tip and quickly got the ball to Ware, who sank a 15-footer within the first ten seconds of overtime. Whether it was turnovers or missed shots, it felt as though Lincoln had used all they had to make the comeback while Washington found an extra gear in overtime. Ware scored 10 of his team-high 22 points in overtime after being held scoreless in the second half. By the time Lincoln got their first points on a basket from Grunder with a little over a minute left, it was clear this one was going in the loss column.

Washington did have a decided advantage at the free throw line, hitting on 15 of 21 while the Railers only had five free throws, all by Grunder. Alexander noted there were some calls he wasn’t pleased with but “we didn’t give the officials any reason to give us any calls.”

An area of concern to keep an eye on is how the Railers handle close games. This season, in games decided by ten or fewer points, Lincoln is only 2-5. It is a pattern that must get reversed because we all know that tournament time is just around the corner and close games can certainly be the norm.

Lincoln was led by career highs from Grunder with his 24 and Sloan’s nine points. All of Sloan’s came in a short window in the third quarter. Bowers finished with seven points while Bacon added six, Hamlin scored four and Dewberry chipped in with two.

A busy week is on deck for the Railers with three games on the schedule starting with a road tilt in Canton on Tuesday night as part of the Mid-Winter Classic. Lincoln will also travel to Mahomet on Friday before coming back home Saturday to host Morton. The Canton game is set to tip off at 7pm. This is not a make or break week for the Railers and the direction of the season but it is close. A win at Canton to start the week will hopefully get the Railers ready for a tough weekend. The season is quickly winding down as Senior Night is less than five weeks away and the seeds will be announced shortly after Valentine’s Day not to mention there are only four home games left.


Grunder 8 4-5 24, Sloan 4 0-0 9, Bowers 3 0-0 7, Bacon 2 0-0 6, Hamlin 2 0-0 4, Dewberry 1 0-0 2, Cannon 0 0-0 0, Holliday 0 0-0 0. TEAM 20 4-5 52. 3pt FG 8 (Grunder 4, Bacon 2, Sloan, Bowers).


Ware 22, Guedet 13, Williams 12, Vanderheydt 8, Mount 3, Butler 3. TEAM 19 15-21 61. 3pt FG 8 (Ware 5, Vanderheydt 2, Mount).

LCHS 10-4-17-12-9 52
WASHINGTON 10-15-13-5-16 61

[by Jeff Benjamin]

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