Saturday, December 17, 2011
Sports News

Railers looking for wins and answers fall short to Jacksonville 38-36

By Jeff Benjamin

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[December 17, 2011]  JACKSONVILLE -- With less than 10 days until Christmas, a lot of folks will be spending time searching for that last-minute gift. For coach Neil Alexander and the Lincoln Railers, they will simply be looking for answers. 

Lincoln saw their losing streak stretch to five games with a 38-36 loss to Jacksonville at the Bowl on Friday night. The Railers remain winless in the conference (0-2), while their season mark drops to 2-6.

Coach Alexander's post-games comments ended with "I'm flabbergasted."  Don't worry, Coach, we're right there with you. 

After a sluggish first half from both squads, Lincoln used long-range shooting from game-high scorers Jordan Gesner and Will Podbelsek to race out to a five-point advantage at 22-17. Tied at 13 at intermission, Podbelsek gave the Railers their first lead of the night at 16-13 by hitting from the right corner early in the third quarter.

After a basket from the Crimsons brought the hosts to within one, Podbelsek connected again, this time from well behind the top of the key. Gesner hit his third 3 of the night after a Jacksonville score to push Lincoln to the five-point lead. Unfortunately, the Railers stalled there and could not take advantage of Crimson miscues. Jacksonville did not let their opportunities slip, hitting three treys in a row, and Lincoln's five-point lead was now a four-point deficit. 

Down 26-22, Lincoln got a big lift going to the fourth when Podbelsek faked from the corner, drove the baseline and floated a 10-footer in at the end of the quarter, leaving the Railers down 26-24. An easy basket from the Crimsons (6-3, 3-0) was answered by a Gesner 3 from the corner, bringing the Railers to within one at 28-27. That was as close as Lincoln would get the rest of the way. 

A five-point run put Jacksonville up by six at 33-27. Sophomore Max Cook hit his only shot of the night from behind the arc to again make it a one-possession game. Again, it was punch-counterpunch as the Crimsons answered with their own 3 and the lead was back to six.   

One area kept giving the Railers hope. Jacksonville struggled from the free-throw line all night, hitting only five of 15 free throws. It was setting up to be the difference in the game. Down 36-30, the Railers pulled close again after a Matt Hays steal resulted in a Gesner 3 from the top of the key.  With 14.6 seconds to go, Dalton Keene was fouled and sent to the line. Keene continued the free-throw woes by missing the front end of the one-and-one. After the rebound, the Railers called timeout to set up a potential game-tying shot. 

However, Gesner passed up a 3 from the right side, electing to pass the ball back out, but in doing so was whistled for traveling with 6.8 seconds to go.   

With 5.3 to go, Keene was fouled again and continued to have problems at the line. This time, it was Rudy Pate who stole the show, and the possible game-tying shot, as he maneuvered around the Railers to grab the rebound from Keene's miss. Pate was fouled with 3.3 seconds to go and did not fall victim to the contagious free-throw shooting.  The 6-foot senior hit both free throws to seal the game for the Crimsons. The final margin came as Podbelsek hit a 3 as time wound down.   

The first half was a struggle for both teams, with the Railers hitting only four of 20 shots, including one that was intended as a pass. All season, the Railers have found a way to jump-start their offense on the lob play to Christian Van Hook, whether with a lay-in or dunk. On Friday night, the only points on that particular play came as Gesner's attempted pass actually went in the basket. Aside from that, Jacksonville had the play well scouted, which contributed to Van Hook having his first game not in double figures this season. 

"I'm struggling, they're struggling," coach Alexander commented.  "Right now, we're finding ways to lose basketball games."

The Railers continued a season-long tendency based on the score at the end of the first quarter. The two games Lincoln has led after the first eight minutes are the two games in the win column. The other six games, behind after one and behind at the end. 

With their last four losses by a combined six points, Alexander was asked if, despite the record, this is a 2-6 team.

"The way we're playing, yes, we are 2 and 6 for a reason," the Lincoln coach lamented. "We're not playing smart, making the same mistakes now that we were making in week one." 

[to top of second column]

One bright spot for the night was the season debut of senior Austin Kirby. Kirby, who had been hampered with a leg injury, brought his usual intensity to the court that we've seen for the past three years. He was limited to nine minutes of action but expects to see more court time as his game conditioning improves.   

The Railers were led by Gesner's 15 points, with Podbelsek connecting for a career-high 12 points.  Cook, Van Hook and Tommy Harris each added three points.

Lincoln will be back home tonight for the final game before Christmas as they play the back half of a conference doubleheader against Taylorville. A reminder: Saturday conference games begin at 6:30, an hour earlier than normal. The sophomore game will begin at 5 p.m.

The sophomore squad also fell on Friday night, dropping a 56-46 decision. Tyler Horchem led with 22 points, while Gavin Block scored 16.


Lincoln (36)

Gesner 5-11 0-0 15, Podbelsek 4-9 1-2 12, Cook 1-4 0-0 3, Van Hook 1-2 1-3 3, Harris 1-3 0-0 3, Kirby 0-2 0-0 0, Olson 0-1 0-0 0, Hays 0-6 0-0 0, Heidbreder 0-1 0-0 0. Team12-39 2-5 36. 3-point shooting 10-26 (Gesner 5-10, Podbelsek 3-8, Cook 1-2, Harris 1-3, Olson 0-1, Kirby 0-2).  Rebounds 21 (Van Hook, Hays 5), assists 8 (3 tied with 2), steals 9 (3 tied with 2), turnovers 9. 


Barlow 9, Pate 9, Hance 8, Keene 5, Jackson 4, Dugan 3. Team 14-24 5-15  38. 3-point shooting 5-11 (Barlow 3, Pate 2). Rebounds 29, assists 10, steals 4, turnovers 13.

Scoring by quarters:

LCHS      6-7-11-12  36
JHS        11-2-13-12  38 

Other Railer notes

The two-point second quarter by Jacksonville represents Lincoln's best defensive quarter of the season. ... Lincoln has both led and trailed in every game so far this season. ... The Railers have been outshot at the free-throw line in six games this year, all losses. ... The 13 points from the Crimsons is a new defensive best for a first half for the Lincoln. Previously the low was 14 against Morton. ... When Lincoln has had three scorers in double figures, they have won both those games. Two or less with 10 or more points have been defeats. ... The Railers have been assigned to the Decatur Regional. The other teams there are Bloomington, Decatur Eisenhower and MacArthur as well as Mount Zion. ... The pairings have been announced for the Collinsville Holiday Classic. Lincoln will play on Dec. 28 at 1 p.m. against Belleville East. For complete tourney info, you can check out the tournament website at


Jeff Benjamin's Railer basketball articles

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