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Tuesday, Dec. 28

Illinois and Lincoln HS both get
sloppy wins    
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By Greg Taylor

[DEC. 28, 2004]  Monday was a basketball doubleheader for me and friend Ed Bacon, as we witnessed two of our favorite teams: the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Lincoln Railers. Neither team played its best game of the year, but both finally secured victories.

Illinois blows out Longwood -- eventually

Monday afternoon, the Illinois basketball team found out they would be the No. 1-ranked team in the land for the fourth consecutive week. Monday night, the No. 1 team in the land played a team most in Illini Nation had never heard of -- Longwood, a team with an RPI ranking of 320 (out of 322 nationwide). Fans asked if the Illini would win by 80, could they hold the visitors to 20 points, and would walk-on Fred Nkemdi be starting the second half? None of the three took place, as Longwood took the fight to Illinois for most of the night, before Illinois rallied for a 105-79 win.

It moves the Orange Invasion to 12-0 on the year (even though they wore their white uniforms) ahead of a pair of games in Las Vegas later in the week.

The story of this game was defense, or lack thereof, even though the team scored 100-plus points for the first time since the 2001-2002 year.

In the post-game press conference, Dee Brown was furious with the play of his team and seemed very agitated with each and every question asked. Coach Bruce Weber was much more tranquil but equally frustrated with his team. Weber complained that the defensive lapses began in the second half of the Missouri game and followed through into Longwood.

At one point, with less than 10 minutes left in the game, Longwood trailed by just eight points and had the ball. Maybe it was a good thing this game was not on TV?

Several positives can be noted on the offensive end, including:

  • Dee Brown dished out a career-high 13 assists.

  • Deron Williams scored a team-high 23 points and appeared to break his shooting slump.

  • James Augustine was one rebound shy of a double-double, with 16 points and nine boards.

  • Luther Head scored 20 points but had the highlight of the night -- an alley-oop slam from Brown when he did a chin-up with the rim (and received a T).

  • Nick Smith showed positive signs of life -- and few signs of pouting.

  • Rich McBride nailed two 3-pointers in transition and had a nice steal and layup.

  • Illinois scored a season-high 56 points in the first half.

  • Illinois had runs of 16-0 and 11-0 over the last 10 minutes of the game to blow out Longwood, and both runs were things of beauty.

Much credit must be given to Longwood. This team that was given little chance to compete with Illinois took the fight to the Illini. Sophomore Michael Jefferson looked a lot like Michael Jordan -- he had a game-high 30 points and scored regularly on Head, Rich McBride and even Williams. The Lancers also got several second-chance points when the Illini failed to block out.

Illinois didn't play its best game of the year on Monday night, but at the same time, Illinois fans who are panicking might want to relax. This week will present a huge test, as Illinois faces an undefeated and ranked Cincinnati team Friday night in Vegas. Illinois is hoping to finish the non-conference portion of the schedule undefeated (and 14-0) for the first time since the 1989-1990 season. The Illini will also play Northwestern State on Thursday night at 6. Both Vegas games can be seen on Fox Sports Chicago.

[to top of second column in this article]

Lincoln holds on to beat Kentucky team

Being the No. 3 seed in the State Farm holiday tourney, it could be assumed the Lincoln Railers would cruise to an easy victory against a team seeded No. 14 in the classic, Eastern HS from Louisville, Ky. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Two reasons really: First, Lincoln looked a little sloppy and possibly slow-footed in their first game after the Christmas holidays; and second, whoever did the seedings at B-N, I'll buy dinner if you can show me 13 teams that are better -- I'm not buying it!

The result of the game was a hard-fought 57-50 victory that moves the Railers into the second round of the tourney against a strong Tinley Park Andrew team at 4:30 p.m. today at the Shirk Center.

Sophomore Blake Schick led the Railers with 18 points, including five 3-point buckets. Junior Chris Gossett battled foul trouble but scored 13 points off the bench with some really nice post moves. Though he stands just 6-foot-1, Gossett is a stud down low and really impressive when clicking on all cylinders. Seniors John Harmsen and David Pickering were steady as always -- Harmsen scoring 11 points and Pickering chipping in nine points as both seniors made three 3-pointers each. Overall, the Railers converted 11 3-point baskets, which accounted for almost 60 percent of their points on the night.

Lincoln trailed 11-8 at the end of the first quarter but went on a 13-2 run to take an eight-point lead halfway through the second quarter. Eastern HS, however, refused to quit and rallied to within two at the half, 27-25. Another strong run, this one 9-0 on three straight 3-point baskets -- two by Harmsen, sandwiched by one from Schick -- helped turn a one-point deficit into a 38-30 lead. Eastern responded with a 10-1 run to retake the lead at 40-39. A huge Schick 3 at the third-quarter buzzer gave the Railers a two-point lead going into the final eight minutes of play.

Lincoln played a strong fourth quarter to pull away late and win 57-50. Schick, Harmsen and Pickering all nailed 3s at key points of the fourth quarter, and the Railers stay in the winners bracket. The victory moves Lincoln to 9-1 on the season.

Commentary: This team is really fun to watch and deserves the support of our community. Get out and support the Railers -- whether this week up at Bloomington-Normal or down the road at home. You can follow the entire State Farm tourney at and find out how both Lincoln teams are faring, as well as Mount Pulaski, Hartsburg-Emden and Olympia.

[Greg Taylor]

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