Friday, December 02, 2011
Sports News

Normal West edges Railers in OT 44-43

By Jeff Benjamin

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[December 02, 2011]  Where have we seen this before?  

On Thursday night, Normal West's Bryce Bronke drained a 3-pointer from the right wing as time expired in overtime to give the Wildcats a 44-43 victory over the Lincoln Railers. Bronke's shot was his only field goal of the game and was released from near the "R" and "S" in "Railsplitters" on the side of the court near the student section. 

In deference to Yogi Berra, it was déjà vu all over again. Back when Brandon Farmer and Matt Schick were juniors, Normal West upset the Railers in regional play on a last-second shot from a player who had not made a basket all night. And where did that shot come from? You guessed it, the same spot as tonight. 

This game did not carry the importance of the one a few years ago, but it was just as critical to a Railer team looking to get back to .500, while Normal West was trying to stay unbeaten.

However, with the numerous turnovers and mental mistakes he saw from his team, Lincoln coach Neil Alexander summed up the game by saying, "We did not deserve to win tonight. We have to play with focus and intensity, and tonight we did not do that." 

The game did not start very well for the Railers, and the Wildcats jumped out to a 10-3 lead, including the first five points from Chris Bohl. Lincoln's first points of the night came on a 3-pointer from Christian Van Hook that, from our broadcast position, looked well off until it hit off the glass and in. Five quick points from Austin Stewart put West up by the seven-point margin. Not letting the early deficit deter their efforts, the Railers' defense stiffened and held their opponents scoreless for the rest of the quarter. A 3 from Tommy Harris brought the Railers closer, and a forced turnover led to a Van Hook 3 from the top of the key in the final seconds of the period to bring the Railers to within one at 10-9. 

Normal West tried to pull away to start the second quarter on a 3 from Spencer Seibring. But, Harris answered with his second 3, which started a 9-0 run to put Lincoln (2-4) up by five at 18-13. The final six points of the run came from Van Hook in a variety of ways, including a lay-in on a lob, a baseline jumper and a pair from the free-throw line. As physical as the game was, I certainly would not have thought those would be Lincoln's only two makes from the free-throw line for the game.   

In a sign of things to come, West cut the Lincoln lead to two by hitting a 3 at the buzzer to post a halftime score of Lincoln up 18-16. 

The Railers came out ready to play to start the third quarter. The offense took on a new look with Max Cook positioned at the free-throw line and floating from each side of the lane. He acted as the hub of a wheel, causing the Wildcats some difficulty in solving the set. The new positioning worked, as a quick 6-0 burst pushed the Lincoln lead to eight at 24-16. Van Hook scored down low on a nice pass from Cook at the high post, and a Will Podbelsek steal and layup, followed by Cook's 14-footer in the lane, forced Normal West coach Brian Cupples to take time to settle his troops. 

After the stoppage, the Wildcats cut the Lincoln lead to three. Leading scorer Stewart, who finished with a game-high 25 points, scored on an offensive rebound, while a drive from Adam McGinnis and free throw by Stewart put the game at 24-21.  Showing fight, Lincoln answered with an offensive rebound score from Van Hook and a big 3 from Podbelsek. Up 29-21, the Railers seemed to have the game headed in the direction they wanted. After a turnover, Lincoln had the ball with under a minute to go and, unless something changed, would get possession to start the fourth quarter.   

The final 40 seconds of the third may have been the turning point. After a missed shot, Stewart was fouled shooting a 3-pointer. After making the first two, he missed the third, but the ball stayed with the Wildcats, and Stewart drew the visitors closer by hitting a 3 at the buzzer. Just that quickly, Lincoln went from up eight with the ball to just up three, and all the momentum at Roy S. Anderson started shifting to Normal West. 

[to top of second column]

Senior Jake Olson put a little more room in the lead by hitting his first 3 of the night to push the game back to 32-26. However, another 3 from the suddenly-can't-miss Stewart cut the margin in half.  After a pair of Wildcat free throws, Olson hit again from long range and Van Hook's 12-footer from the baseline put the Railers up 37-31. After a free throw from the evening's future villain, Bronke, it was Stewart again who would not let his Wildcats stay down. The senior hit a 10-footer, and then, after a steal, was fouled on a layup and converted the free throw to tie the game at 37. 

Both teams had trouble hanging on to the ball throughout the game, with Lincoln having 17 turnovers, while West turned it over 14 times.

"Both teams played sloppy," Alexander said. "I'm not sure either team wanted to win this game."

Lincoln had a moderate amount of difficulty getting the ball inbounds. Whether it was being thrown away or forcing a timeout to be called, the West defense caused a number of errant passes that resulted in Wildcat points. 

A turnover with 3.8 seconds remaining gave the Railers a shot to win in regulation, but the inbounds pass to Jordan Gesner was mishandled and the senior could not get a good grip. When he finally flung the ball toward the basket, it nicked the front of the rim and we were headed to overtime. 

In the extra session, it was Stewart again from the line to give West a two-point advantage. Gesner redeemed himself by hitting a 3 to put Lincoln up 40-39. Harris' third 3 of the game put the Railers up four, and things were starting to look good for the red and green. Again, Stewart led his team back, getting fouled on another 3-point attempt. After making two, the Railers again had difficulty handling the basketball, giving the Wildcats the ball in the closing seconds. A missed shot was tracked down by Harris, who was fouled. His front end of the one-and-one was off the mark, and the Wildcats raced downcourt. With the ball being knocked out of bounds with 2.4 seconds remaining, the stage was set for Bronke to hit the game-winner as time expired. 

A disappointing loss for the Railers, who have lost three in a row, it was a game both teams could have won, or lost, as each squad made enough miscues to keep their opponent in the game. Normal West did just to enough to hang around and leave town with the win. 

Van Hook led the Lincoln scoring with 18, with Harris hitting three 3s for a career-high nine points. Olson added six, while Podbelsek scored five, Gesner three, and Cook had one basket. 

The Railers are now off until a week from tonight,  when they will take on the Rockets in Rochester. The CS8 season for the Railers will open with a scheduled tip time of 7:30. 


Lincoln (43)

Van Hook 7-8 2-3 18, Harris 3-4 0-1 9, Olson 2-7 0-0 6, Podbelsek 2-5 0-0 5, Gesner 1-4 0-0 3, Cook 1-3 0-0 2, Bowlby 0-1 0-0 0. Team 16-32 2-4 43. 3-point field goals 9-22 (Harris 3-4, Van Hook 2-2, Olson 2-7, Podbelsek 1-4, Gesner 1-4, Cook 0-1). Rebounds 21 (Van Hook 7, Gesner 6), assists 13 (Gesner 6), turnovers 17. 

Normal West (44) 

Stewart 25, Bohl 5, Bronke 4, Seibring 3, Keith 3, McGinnis 2, Durham 2. Team 13-43 12-20  44.  3-point field goals 6-21 (Stewart 3, Bronke, Seibring, Keith). Rebounds 35, assists 9, turnovers 14. 

Scoring by quarters: 

LCHS      9-9-11-8-6  43
NWHS   10-6-10-9-7  44


Jeff Benjamin's Railer basketball articles

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