Saturday, January 07, 2012
Sports News

Railers begin new year with conference win

By Jeff Benjamin

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[January 07, 2012]  SPRINGFIELD -- It was only a week ago that both combatants in Friday night's Central State 8 tilt were playing for championships at their respective holiday tournaments. The Lincoln Railers were facing off against conference foe Glenwood in the consolation championship at Collinsville, while the Senators from Springfield were a surprise entrant in the title contest in Bloomington. Both teams came up short in their efforts and were hoping the new year would bring new results.

Well, so far, so good ... at least for Lincoln.

The Railers picked up their third win in their last four games, using tough defense and an increased effort to keep Springfield winless in the conference with a convincing 42-24 victory over the Senators in the capital city. Lincoln is now 2-2 in CS8 play, while Springfield drops to 0-4. It was one of those games when nothing seemed to go right for Springfield, and the Railers had a lot to do with that.

Coming into the contest, Lincoln coach Neil Alexander knew a strong effort from Christian Van Hook would go a long way toward giving the Railers a shot at victory. Over the last four games, Van Hook had been averaging less than eight points a game. Well, the senior delivered and did so with authority. Getting only his second double-figure game in the past seven, the senior played what Alexander called "probably the best game he's played here."

Van Hook led the way in scoring with 15 points, along with six rebounds and four blocked shots.

"I'm not sure how many people saw it tonight, but Christian was a man inside tonight," Alexander said, praising his team's leading scorer coming into the night. "But you could take away the points, say he didn't score, he made them think twice about coming down the lane. It's been a long time since a team has been timid about coming inside against Lincoln."

Van Hook got the Railers on the board with their first of only three treys on the night. Although the Railers are known for the 3-point shooting, so far this season, the long shot could be looked at as a hindrance. Including Friday night's game, the Railers (6-8) are 4-3 in games in which they make six or less 3s. In contests with seven or more made, they are only 2-5.

A Springfield basket was followed up by freshman Gavin Block scoring the first of his career-high 12 points. Block also helped set the defensive tone by drawing a charge, something that has been commonplace over the past six games.

Lincoln also knew coming in that the less involved Springfield senior Willie Wiley was, the better chance to come out of Springfield with a win. The play of Van Hook on the inside, including blocking a couple of shots, caused Wiley some hesitation in the first quarter, and at the end of the first eight minutes, the Railers enjoyed a four-point lead.

Lincoln used their defense to create offense to start the scoring in the second as Max Cook knocked a pass away, tipped it to himself and broke away for a layup. The Senators were able to get their first contribution from Wiley, who grabbed his only offensive rebound of the night and got the basket. Again, Wiley's lack of production was the focus of the Lincoln defense and Van Hook.

"That was Christian doing what he is supposed to do," Alexander said. "If he (Van Hook) can play like that every night, we will be tough to beat."

After a Van Hook basket and Springfield turnover, something they did a lot on Friday night, the Railers attempted to run the alley-oop play for Van Hook. The Senators had it scouted very well, preventing the connection. On the return trip down the floor, Springfield responded with their own alley-oop to Wiley. The fans in attendance for Springfield were hoping that Wiley was now getting into the contest. Unfortunately for them, it was as involved as he would get all night.

Lincoln took a 17-9 lead into the half as the Railer defense put up their best first-half effort, at least pointwise, of the season. The Railers were only 7 of 19 in the first half, including hitting just one of the nine 3-point attempts, while the Senators made 4 of their 14 shots. Their shot attempts were greatly affected by the inability to hold on to the ball with 11 turnovers.

The third quarter did not begin the way the Railers had hoped. Neither team could run a set offense or hold on to the ball in the early stages of the period. The Senators settled down first, grabbing the first four points of the quarter. With the Railer lead down to four, it was the freshman who got the ship righted. Needing a big basket, Block drove down the right side of the lane, faked the pass to the outside and continued to the basket for the layup.

A layup from Van Hook followed, along with free throws from Block and Van Hook. Up 24-13, Springfield coach Matt Reed picked up a technical foul. After Block made both free throws, the Railers had run off a 9-0 to double up the Senators at 26-13.

Jordan Gesner stretched the lead to 14, hitting a long, high, arching 3 over the outstretched arms of Wiley. The best quarter of the night for the Railers ended after they ran the end-of-quarter possession to perfection with a nice pass underneath to Block, who laid it in at the buzzer, and the game headed to the fourth with Lincoln up 31-15.

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The fourth quarter was more of the same as the Lincoln defense forced one miscue after another, even some when the pressure applied was minimal. That's how bad the night was for Springfield. The Railers also took a higher percentage of shots in the second half. After nine attempts at 3s in the first half, Lincoln took only four from long range after intermission, hitting two of them. The Railers also stepped up when needed at the free-throw line, going 9 of 10. In the previous three games, the Railers had shot 53 free throws but made just over 60 percent.

The Railers were led by Van Hook's 15 points, with Block scoring 12. Gesner finished with nine points, with Will Podbelsek adding four and Cook scoring two. In the opening game, the Lincoln sophomore squad picked up a 45-37 win.

It was a good way to start the new year, but coach Alexander quickly turned his attention to the next line on the schedule. "It was a good win for us tonight," he said, "but we can't waste it by not coming out and performing tomorrow night."

The Railers will be back in action tonight in the second half of a CS8 doubleheader as they play host to the Spartans from Southeast. A reminder with the game being a Saturday conference game: The varsity contest is scheduled to tip off at 6:30, with the sophomore game getting things started at Roy S. Anderson at 5.

Other conference scores from Friday:

  • Southeast 58, Rochester 48

  • Glenwood 71, Jacksonville 55

  • SHG 70, Taylorville 45



Van Hook 5-9 3-4 15, Block 3-4 6-6 12, Gesner 4-9 0-0 9, Podbelsek 2-5 0-0 4, Cook 1-2 0-0 2, Kirby 0-1 0-0 0, Olson 0-1 0-0 0, Hays 0-0 0-0 0, Bowlby 0-1 0-0 0. Team 15-32 9-10 42. 3-point field goals 3-13 (Van Hook 2-3, Gesner 1-4, Kirby 0-1, Olson 0-1, Bowlby 0-1, Block 0-1, Podbelsek 0-2). Rebounds 19 (Van Hook 6), assists 8 (Block 3), steals 10 (Cook, Gesner 3), turnovers 15.


Nelson 9, Lanier 6, Wiley 4, Poole 3, Balster 2. Team 11-31 1-6 24. 3-point field goals 1-10 (Nelson). Rebounds 24, assists 3, turnovers 21.

Scoring by quarters:

LCHS   9-8-14-11 42
SHS      5-4- 6- 9  24


Jeff Benjamin's Railer basketball articles




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