Saturday, February 04, 2012
Sports News

Railer upset bid comes up short

Railers take No. 1 team to wire

By Jeff Benjamin

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[February 04, 2012]  SPRINGFIELD -- The last two times the Railers and Lions have gotten together on the basketball court, something notable has happened. It was a year ago Saturday that Jordan Nelson set the all-time single-game record for Lincoln by dropping 48 against Lanphier. On the return trip to Springfield, Brant Coyne's 3 from the left corner at the buzzer sent the Railers, and Railer Nation, into hysteria with a thrilling 66-63 victory in the regular-season finale.

So, would the first game of this season's series live up to last year's festivities? Coming in, it didn't look it, with the Railers below .500, while Lanphier was undefeated in conference play and the No. 1 team in Class 3A.

When Christian Van Hook, who had been saddled with foul trouble all night, drained a 3 from that same "coyne-er" with about 30 seconds to go, he capped a 12-0 run to give Lincoln a 36-35 lead, and an upset of the state's top 3A team was looking like a real possibility.

Unfortunately, Lanphier super sophomore Larry Austin Jr. was fouled with 17.4 seconds to go and made both ends of the one-and-one to put the Lions up to stay. Two more free throws brought us to the final score, showing that Lanphier had survived Lincoln, but just barely, 39-36.

Lober-Nika Gymnasium is always one of those places where, if anything is going to happen, that is where it will be. Friday night was no different. By the time nine seconds had run off the first-quarter clock, Lanphier had been whistled for a foul trying to corral the opening tip, and Lincoln turned the ball back to the Lions. Fouls played a key role in the outcome of the contest.

It would be hard to determine if the opening stages of the first quarter were highlighted by good defense or plagued by sputtering offenses.

When Van Hook connected for a 3-pointer at the 4:30 mark, the evening's scoreless tie was broken. The Railers extended to a 5-0 lead on a Van Hook alley-oop layup on a pass from Max Cook.

The trouble for Lincoln in the first quarter came a few moments later as Van Hook picked up his second foul at the 3:38 mark. With Van Hook's presence necessary on both ends of the court, coach Neil Alexander was hoping the senior could play through the early foul trouble. Well, 25 seconds later that foul trouble mushroomed when he picked up his third foul and headed to the bench for the rest of the half.

After Lanphier made both free throws, Jordan Gesner hit his only 3 of the night to push the Lincoln lead to 8-4. More fouls from Lincoln continued to send Lanphier to the line. The first four fouls by the Railers were all of the two-shot variety. The Lions made six of the eight free throws in the first quarter, with Austin making their only two field goals.

Up 10-8, Bowlby, in for Van Hook, hit a big 3 from the corner to stretch the Railer advantage to 13-8. In a sign of offensive struggles to come, it was Lincoln's final basket of the half.  

Up 13-10 entering the second quarter, Lincoln (11-13, 5-7) watched as the Lions scored a quick two. After a foul sent Cook to the line for two shots, where he made one, Lincoln was up 14-12. Lanphier (19-2, 12-0) used their defense to turn the Railers over one possession after another and string together an 8-0 run to the end the half. The run included two free throws from Austin that gave Lanphier their first lead of the night at the 2:06 mark, at 16-14.

The most demoralizing of the points came as the Lions stripped the ball from the Railers and conference-leading scorer Everett Clemons hit a shot near the free-throw line as the buzzer sounded, giving Lanphier a 20-14 lead at the half.

So, the Railers were down by six, playing most of the first half without their leading scorer and only being outrebounded by two on the road while playing the No. 1 team in the state. Believe it or not, Lincoln was in this game, and it didn't look like they were going anywhere soon.

A quick 4-0 start from the Railers in the second half on baskets from Gavin Block and Gesner pulled Lincoln to within a pair at 20-18. Lanphier answered with four of their own to go back up 24-18. Much of the third quarter played out that way, as Lincoln never could knot the game back up, getting close, only to have Lanphier pull away. A pair of baskets from Cook sandwiched around a Lions score once again got the Railers close at 26-22.

At the 3:59 mark of the third, Van Hook re-entered the contest with his three fouls. It didn't take long for No. 4 to find him, as Van Hook fouled a driving T.J. Davis. The senior made both free throws, giving them the advantage 28-22 and sending Van Hook back to the bench.

With that same score showing to start the fourth, Lanphier started to slowly pull away. After Clemons made two free throws that ended a 9-2 run, the Lions were up 35-24, and it looked like their No. 1 ranking was safe for at least another night.

Not so fast.

Showing every bit of grit and determination the coaching staff has been trying to pull out of this team since November, the Railer defense toughened and tightened, forcing turnovers, grabbing defensive rebounds and sticking their foot in the door that many in orange and black thought was about to slam shut.

Will Podbelsek got the run started with a 3 from the corner. After a Lanphier miscue, Block was found downcourt on a run-out, and his layup over the outstretched hand of Austin cut the game to 35-29. A shot in the lane from Cook let the Railers creep closer, and it was now time for the Railer Nation to start making noise while the Lions' fans grew ever quieter. Podbelsek missed a 3 but got his own rebound, with his layup attempt rolling off but gathered by Van Hook to cut the game to just a one-possession affair.

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Another Lanphier turnover, most in the slow-down game, gave the ball back to Lincoln. When Van Hook came around a screen on the baseline, caught the pass, went up for the shot and drained the 3-pointer, the comeback was complete and the Railers were up 36-35.

On the ensuing possession, Lanphier got the ball to Austin in the lane, where he was surrounded by three Railers, one of whom was whistled for a foul. With 17.4 seconds to go, Austin hit both free throws.

Lincoln still had a shot. With the ball getting knocked out of bounds and after a timeout, the Railers were having difficulty getting the play they wanted. With 5.3 seconds to go, Cook's inbounds pass was stolen by Clemons, who was fouled with 3.5 seconds remaining. Clemons hit both free throws, putting the Lions up 39-36. Lincoln's final attempt came from Van Hook, whose desperation three-quarter court heave came up short, just as the Railers' bid to knock off No. 1.

The loss was disappointing, but the effort was commendable. After the game, coach Alexander had nothing but praise for his Railers.

"I'm proud of our kids," he said. "Tonight, we fought. For once, we fought hard."

It also did not seem the Railers were intimidated at the prospects of playing No. 1 Lanphier.

"I told the kids flat out, if we came out tonight and played soft, we were going to home and we were going to run," Alexander said.

Lanphier is not a perimeter team, and the Railers played to that strength, packing in their zone, daring the Lions to beat them from the outside. Well, it wasn't from the behind the arc that the Lions got the win. They did not make a 3-pointer in the game.

The game was decided from 15 feet away as Lanphier connected on 19 of 24 free throws, while Lincoln converted on only one of their three opportunities.  

Lincoln was led by Van Hook's 12 points, with Cook adding seven. Block finished with six, with Gesner adding five, and Podbelsek and Bowlby each hitting a 3.

The Railers do not have time to think about the almosts, the we-got-closes, as they are back in action tonight, taking on Springfield. Lincoln owns a dominating 42-24 victory over the Senators earlier in the season.

As a reminder, with all Saturday conference games, varsity tip time is scheduled at 6:30, after the sophomores get things going at 5 p.m. Coach Gregg Alexander's team will be looking to bounce back from their 53-46 loss on Friday.



Van Hook 5 0-0 12, Cook 3 1-2 7, Block 3 0-0 6, Gesner 2 0-1 5, Podbelsek 1 0-0 3, Bowlby 1 0-0 3, Kirby 0 0-0 0, Olson 0 0-0 0, Hays 0 0-0 0. Team 15 1-3  36. 3-point field goals 5 (Van Hook 2, Podbelsek, Gesner, Bowlby).

Lanphier (39)

Austin 13, Clemons 12, Davis 6, Briggity 4, Boozer 4. Team 10 19-24 39.

Scoring by quarters:

LCHS         13- 1- 8-14  36
Lanphier      10-10-8-11  39


  • By playing in the game, Austin Kirby moves into a tie for 19th in games played as a Railer. Kirby is now even with Paul Kendrick.


  • Ben Brackney (Bucknell) -- next game today vs. Army

  • Jordan Nelson (Evansville) -- today at SIU; previous game Feb. 1 at Bradley, 0 points

  • Louie Schonauer (Nova Southeastern) -- today vs. Florida Southern; previous game Feb. 1 vs. Eckerd, 8 points, 5 rebounds

  • Nathaniel Smith (Loras College) -- today vs. University of Dubuque; previous game Feb. 1 vs. Buena Vista, 8 points, 5 rebounds (stats updated only through game 18)


Jeff Benjamin's Railer basketball articles

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