Thursday, December 29, 2011
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U of I recruit does in Railers at Collinsville

By Jeff Benjamin

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[December 29, 2011]  COLLINSVILLE  -- When Jake Olson's back-door pass to an open Jordan Gesner bounced off Gesner's hands and out of bounds on Lincoln's first possession, no one at historic Vergil Fletcher Gymnasium in Collinsville knew that would be a precursor of things to come for the Lincoln Railers on Wednesday.

Committing one unforced error after another, while watching Belleville East scorch the nets for 67 percent shooting, the Railers find themselves in unfamiliar territory, the consolation bracket, after their 59-37 loss to the Lancers on the opening day of the 2011 Schnucks Holiday Classic in Collinsville.

Since Lincoln's return to Collinsville for the 2005 edition of the Classic, the one certainty had always been a win in the first round. Some easy, some not so much, but always a win. The chances of victory for the Railers this time seemed to disappear midway through the second quarter.

The frustrating thing about it for Lincoln coach Neil Alexander wasn't so much the physical errors, but more so the mental mistakes.

"I don't care about the score, so we lost," Alexander said. "But we at the very least need to come out and compete, and we did not do that today. You can't make a mistake, pout and mope about it, which in turn creates two or three more mistakes."

The Railers were charged with 16 turnovers, well above the desired single-digit total. What caused a certain amount of teeth-gnashing were the types of turnovers, whether it be simply losing control of the dribble on the sideline while not being pressured, having passes go right through the hands of the receiver, or -- possibly the one that summed up the entire afternoon -- the ball hitting the basket support after a missed dunk.

The 28th version of the Classic saw Belleville East jump out to an early 6-0 lead on a couple of 3-pointers. Despite the early turnovers, Lincoln (3-7) knotted the game at 6 after Will Podbelsek, Lincoln's most consistent player over the past few games, hit a 3 to get the Railers on the board, followed by a Christian Van Hook shot from behind the arc.

After the Lancers went back up 10-6, Gesner's jumper from the side brought the Railers back within two. By quarter's end, the Lincoln deficit was only four at 12-8 and things looked pretty good.

An early second-quarter free throw from Belleville East (5-4) stretched the lead to five. The Railers kept the game close thanks to a 3-pointer from freshman Gavin Block, who continues to impress and get extended minutes, and a free throw from Podbelsek, who was fouled after a steal at half court. Down 15-14, you felt good about the Railers' place in the game. Then the storm blew in.

The Lancers, using pressure defense and hot shooting, proceeded to go on a 16-4 run to end the first half. The only Lincoln points during the onslaught were from Van Hook, two on an alley-oop dunk and a pair of free throws to end the half.

The run was fueled by Malcolm Hill. The 6-5 junior has verbally committed to the University of Illinois, and he lived up to the hype, outscoring the Railers in the quarter 13-10. Hill scored on breakaway dunks, jumpers in the lane and free throws. He was doing it all, and all the Lincoln defense could do was sit back and watch.

In the first half, Belleville shot 71 percent, including 80 percent from 3-point range, while the Railers shot 43 percent from the field. However, double-digit turnovers and a 12-0 advantage in fast-break points had the game well in the Lancers' favor.

The third quarter was more of the same, a 15-5 win for Belleville, with Hill again doing his audition for best villain in an opening-round game. Eight more points for Hill gave him 23 through three quarters, the same amount scored by Lincoln during the same time. The only Lincoln points came on another alley-oop to Van Hook and the second 3 of the day for Block. As the horn sounded to end the third, the Railers were looking at a 26-point disadvantage at 49-23.

Lincoln did have its best quarter during the final eight minutes, outscoring the Lancers 14-13, but it was certainly too little, too late. In fact, as the game was reaching its conclusion, thanks to the 30-point lead that was reached at 59-29, the running clock went into effect.

It definitely is something you rarely see when it is Lincoln on the losing side. The Railers were able to notch the game's final eight points, including a basket from Edward Bowlby and 3s from Max Cook and Gesner. Earlier in the quarter, the Railers started to find their stroke from long range, getting 3s from Austin Kirby and Bowlby.

Maybe it was just one of those days.

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Lincoln finished with only five two-point field goals, two of them alley-oops to Van Hook and a Gesner layup on a back door.

The Lancers did not make it easy on the inside at all. Did the Railers rely too much on the 3? Well, the defense from Belleville certainly played a role in that, and don't let the 5-4 record fool you. Their losses have come to some powerhouse teams, with a couple of their wins against strong opponents. This team may not be seeded in this tournament, but don't be surprised if they are not an easy out for anyone. Simply, the Railers had a bad day, and a real good team took full advantage of that.

For the game, Lincoln finished at 39 percent, going 8 of 25 from 3-point range. As for the Lancers, they connected on 20 of 30 shots, hitting on 8 of 13 from behind the arc. The 16 Railer turnovers turned into 23 Belleville points. All in all, Belleville East was the better team on Wednesday.

For the first time this season, the Railers did not get a player in double figures, with Van Hook leading the way with nine points. Gesner finished with seven, while Block added six points and four boards. Bowlby scored a late five points, with Podbelsek chipping in four, and Cook and Kirby each hitting a single 3-pointer.

Wednesday was the first game in which the Railers did not enjoy a lead at any time in the contest, as well as giving up a season-high 59 points. How uncharacteristic was this loss for this season? The first six losses came by a total of 25 points, while Wednesday's was by 22 by itself.

Yeah, maybe you can chalk it up to just one of the days. But, based on the comments of coach Alexander, he doesn't seem ready to settle for more of the same.

"We will not have any court time between now and tomorrow," Alexander commented. "The one thing we will work on will be mindset. We have to come with the right mindset to play, and I'm looking for five guys to do just that."

Lincoln's next game will be on the consolation side of the bracket, with tip time scheduled for 10:30 Thursday morning. The Railers will face Dunlap, a 62-37 loser to No. 4 seed McCluer North.



Van Hook 3-8 2-2 9, Gesner 3-8 0-0 7, Block 2-4 0-0 6, Bowlby 2-2 0-0 5, Podbelsek 1-4 1-2 4, Cook 1-3 0-0 3, Kirby 1-2 0-0 3, Olson 0-2 0-0 0, Eimer 0-0 0-0 0, Harris 0-0 0-0 0, Hays 0-0 0-0 0, Heidbreder 0-0 0-0 0. Team 13-33 3-4 37. 3-point field goals 8-25 (Block 2-4, Bowlby 1-1, Kirby 1-2, Podbelsek 1-3, Cook 1-3, Van Hook 1-4, Gesner 1-6, Olson 0-2). Rebounds 13 (Block 4), assists 9 (Gesner 3), turnovers 16.

Belleville East (59)

Hill 28, Goodwin 17, Smith-Traylor 5, Brock 4, Reddick 3, Akins 2. Team 20-30 11-14 59. 3-point field goals 8-13 (Goodwin 3, Hill 2, Reddick). Rebounds 15, assists 16, turnovers 13.

Scoring by quarters:

Belleville East   12-19-15-15
LCHS                8-10- 5-14


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