Railer second half defense shines in 37-29 win at East Peoria

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[December 11, 2023]  East Peoria – The familiar sports adage states that defense wins championships.

While it may not have been a title contest Saturday night in East Peoria, the defense of the Railer boys basketball team propelled Lincoln to a 37-29 victory, triggering a comeback from a 5 point halftime deficit in limiting the host school to 5 second-half points, including none in the final stanza.

“Our kids were so gutty on the defensive end,” said head coach Neil Alexander. “They [East Peoria] were shooting in the first half, we were making some mistakes and we didn’t recover where we were supposed to. We talked about it at halftime and they [Lincoln players] made a great adjustment.”

Alexander shuffled his starting lineup, inserting Gabe Smith and Karson Komnick into the lineup for the first time this season in an effort to find a combination that would generate more offense. The revamped lineup did not succeed in putting more points on the scoreboard, as Lincoln averaged 45.9 points per game entering the contest.

“It’s nothing they’ve done,” he said in explaining the replacement of Aidan Gowin and Frank Sanders in the starting lineup. “We’re just trying and searching for different flows that can get us going. They stepped up and they played really for us. At the end, Aidan hit the big free throws.”

East Peoria held a 14-7 lead near the end of the first quarter, but Komnick hit the second of his two first-quarter 3-pointers just before the end of the period cut the lead to 14-10.

Lincoln was looking up at a 24-19 deficit entering the second half, but the Railers turned up their defensive pressure to hold East Peoria to 5 points in the third quarter while scoring 12.

“We made the adjustments,” Alexander said. “The kids got moved around, came in and did a fabulous job. Our kids just smothered them.

“We talk every night about the effort these kids give, and it was no different tonight.”

The Railers bettered their defensive efforts in the final stanza, pitching a shutout in the quarter by allowing no points while adding 6 points for Lincoln for the final 37-29 margin of victory.

“It was a fantastic game,” Alexander said. ”For us to come away with a win and win the way we did, it was really a good win.

“Our defense won the basketball game for us. I’m really happy for our kids.”

Drew Hayes

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Trey Schilling

On the offensive side, Drew Hayes led Lincoln with 13 points. Trey Schilling added 10, Komnick scored 8, Gowin notched 8 and Sanders contributed 2.

Despite the win and being pleased with his team’s defense performance, Alexander said his squad still must make adjustments offensively.

“People right now are just stopping our driving,” he said. “They’re just sagging in the middle, we’re not hitting shots, and it’s kind of hard. If we start hitting shots, they’re going to have to come out and it’s going to open up the floodgates.”

Another occasional sore spot for Lincoln this season has been rebounding. With a smaller lineup and no exceptionally tall traditional post player, Alexander has repeatedly said the Railers must rebound well as a team. He said he felt better about the rebounding efforts of his squad against East Peoria.

“We’ve got to have five guys attacking the ball,” he said. “If we just stand around and wait for it to come to us, by the time it comes to us, somebody else has got it, and usually not a Railer. Our kids did a better job of attacking tonight.”

Even with a few areas of concern, Alexander said that, with players getting accustomed to their responsibilities in the team’s offensive and defensive schemes, patience is a key and will be rewarded with success.

“I feel good about our kids,” he said. “It’s going to happen; I think we all know that. We’ve just got to be patient with them and let them fill in and find their roles and let them get comfortable.”

Lincoln hosts former Apollo Conference rival Mahomet-Seymour, coached by Railer alum Adam Schonauer, Friday, Dec. 15 at 7:30 PM. Lincoln then travels to face conference foe Rochester on December 16 at 7 PM.

[Loyd Kirby]


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