Lincoln season ends as offense struggles against Lanphier

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[March 03, 2018]  Going into Friday night’s regional final in Rochester, one thing was certain. One of the top ten teams in the state would not have a pleasant bus ride home. The common thought was that the game would hinge on the ability for number 10 Lincoln to hold down the offensive-minded Lanphier Lions, ranked sixth in the season’s final poll. By the end of the game, Lanphier’s side of the scoreboard showed a scant 33 points, below what Lincoln was allowing defensively coming in the game. When asked about how he felt the game would have turned out knowing that would be Lanphier’s total, Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said “I would’ve taken it. Just 33 points. I think anyone would have.”

Unfortunately, the story of the game was not the Lincoln defense. It was the Lincoln offense. The Lions held the Railers to just 22 percent shooting for the game, including just 3 of 21 in the second half. The 33 points for Lanphier was enough to end the Lincoln season with a 33-19 win in the Rochester regional final. The win moves the Lions to the sectional to be held in Decatur next week while the Railers watched their season come to a disappointing end.

“Our kids played hard, the effort was good,” Alexander said. “And I would be very upset if I heard anything differently. These kids have played hard all season. Yes, the end is disappointing but it has been a successful season.”

For much of the season, the defense has carried this team. At times, the offense has struggled but the Railers have always found a way to get the win. On Friday night, Lanphier was the wrong opponent to have those struggles against. No matter how many different numbers you look at, the offense just did not keep up with the defense. During the season, the Railer defense has prided itself on single digit quarters. Lanphier gave the Railers a taste of their own medicine with quarters of 4, 7, 0, and 8. Yes, the third quarter was where the game was won.

Lanphier outscored the Railers 10-0 during the third, taking a 21-11 lead after being knotted at 11 at intermission. “Lanphier definitely came out with more intensity in the second half,” Alexander said. “We got the shots but they just didn’t fall. They just didn’t let us get the ball where we wanted.”

When the names Lincoln and Lanphier are on the playbill, you always have a good chance for a great game. During the first half, the largest lead for either team was three and the close, hard-nosed battle was about where we thought it would be. Now, I will be the first to admit a game tied at 11 was not what I had in mind but 16 minutes generated only 22 points of offense. After an early Lanphier basket, Ben Grunder got Lincoln on the board with a steal and a layup. It felt fitting the Railers got on the board with defense turning into offense. After a three from Larry Hemingway, Isaiah Bowers pulled Lincoln within one on a 15-footer. Lanphier took a 7-4 lead at the end of one and it felt as though each team had started to get past the feeling out process and the game and pace would pick up.

Titus Cannon got the second quarter scoring starting with a driving layup before Lanphier leading scorer Cardell McGee hit a pair of free throws to push the margin back to three at 9-6. The Railers finally pulled even as Cannon drove the lane with another layup while getting fouled. His free throw tied the game at 9. Lincoln’s first and only lead of the night came on another layup from Grunder, this one an acrobatic high off the glass spinning layup to put the Railers up 11-9. McGee tied the game at 11 for Lanphier and as the horn sounded for intermission, both teams seemed to take a deep breath. Each team would be searching for offense during the break. Lincoln was only 5 of 15, but Lanphier hit only 4 of 17 shots. Lincoln was outrebounding the Lions and was more successful in the paint. All in all, it had not been a great first half but the Railers had to feel like they were in a good spot.

However, the third quarter would turn into a good spot of trouble for Lincoln.

McGee quickly got Lanphier (25-3) on the board before Karl Wright converted an offensive rebound into a 15-11 advantage leading Alexander to take a timeout. As my broadcast partner for the evening Tom Larey mentioned, it was just a four point lead but the feel of the game made it seem much more. And much more is what it would become. After Hemingway found himself wide open on the left side for another three, the run was punctuated on a fast break alley-oop pass that resulted in Wright slamming in a one-hand dunk that stretched the lead to 20-11. A free throw from Wright left the Railers down ten heading into the fourth quarter and the victims of a zero-point quarter.

The offensive struggles continued for both teams in the fourth. The Railers (25-6) had open shots but couldn’t get them to fall. Offensive possessions turned into turnovers, many of the unforced variety. For most of the season, the Railers would find a way. A play here or there would turn the tide and Lincoln would take over. A spark, any kind of spark. Where would the beginning of the run that would get Lincoln back in the game come from? It looked as though, with 5:35 left in the game, the answer would come in the form of a Lanphier player.

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With two and a half minutes gone, a tie-up near mid-court resulted in a held ball. During the process of getting everyone separated, Lanphier’s McGee was whistled for a technical foul after he was a bit too aggressive with an elbow off a Lincoln player. Two shots and the ball. This could be the moment. Cannon hit both free throws and, down eight, you wanted to believe Lincoln was about to find a way. But, as had been the case for much of the night, another shot that did not go down and the inability to grab the rebound squelched that possibility.

During the next two minutes, Lincoln turned the Lions over numerous times. However, there was no defense-to-offense on this night. The Railers seemed rushed, trying the to the game with one shot, playing into the hands of the Lanphier defense. With 3:31 left, McGee put the Lions up 24-13. After another Lanphier score, Drew Bacon tried to keep Lincoln close with 2:52 remaining. The Lions lead was 26-13 and a lot of things would have to go right for Lincoln to have a chance.

One of the many things that hurt the Railers was the inability to put together a string of scoring possessions. Only once on the night did the Railers score consecutive points. Compare that with Lanphier having separate runs of 12-0 and 12-4 and you start to see the recipe for defeat. Lincoln’s final baskets of the night came from Cannon and Grunder but by the time the final buzzer sounded, it was Lanphier making plans for Decatur on Tuesday night.

Another Railer season has come to an end. Could Lincoln’s final bracket position been different if the pairings had not left four of the top ten teams in the same sectional? Maybe, but for years Coach Alexander has preached that at one point or another you have to beat the good teams so now is just as welcome a challenge as later.

The Railers were led by Cannon and his nine points while Grunder added six. Bacon and Bowers chipped in with two. Scoring, all from seniors, and Alexander was quick to remind folks how much seniors mean. “When we get back, I will have my talk with the seniors and it’s always the hardest part of this,” Alexander said. “These five seniors have put in the time, made the effort, worked hard for four years to be part of this program, giving everything they have. They are all going to college after high school and I know they will be successful in whatever they do because they are good kids. For me, the number one goal that everyone should have is to be a good person. If you can do that, a lot of the other stuff in life just falls into place.”

So, with that, Isaiah Bowers, Ben Grunder, Titus Cannon, Tate Sloan, and Drew Bacon, we salute you and thank you for continuing the tradition of what it means to be part of Lincoln Railer basketball.

Normally, this is where I let you know the next opponent, next location, etc. But, the season is over and the Railers won’t hit the court again until right before Thanksgiving. The returning juniors Jermaine Hamlin and Colton Holliday will be joined by those from the sophomore squad that had a very successful season. Will next season shape up like this year? Let’s worry about that in November. For now, let’s enjoy another great season that had a disappointing conclusion.

Lincoln Railers and Railer Nation, thank you one and all.


Cannon 3-12 3-3 9, Grunder 3-8 0-0 6, Bowers 1-11 0-0 2, Bacon 1-1 0-0 2, Sloan 0-1 0-0 0, Hamlin 0-0 0-0 0, Dewberry 0-1 0-0 0, Whiteman 0-2 0-0 0, Funk 0-0 0-0 0, Froebe 0-0 0-0 0, Pozsgai 0-0 0-0 0, Ewald 0-0 0-0 0,. TEAM 8-36 3-3 19. 3pt Fg 0-13 (Cannon 0-4, Bowers 0-4, Grunder 0-2, Whiteman 0-2, Dewberry 0-1). Rebounds 19 (Bowers 5), Assists 3 (Grunder 2), Steals 7 (Bowers 2, Cannon 2), Turnovers 15.


McGee 13, Hemingway 6, Wright 6, Jones 4, Edwards 2, McMath 2. TEAM 10-29 10-13 33. 3pt FG 3-12 (Hemingway 2, McGee). Rebounds 29, Assists 7, Steals 5, Turnovers 14.

LCHS 4-7-0-8 19
LANPHIER 7-4-10-12 33

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