MacArthur defeats Lincoln 45-40, claims Central State 8 crown

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[February 10, 2024]  Lincoln – Decatur MacArthur raced out to a 6-0 lead, shooting almost 50 percent from the field in the first half and hitting clutch free throws late in the game to hold off a Railer rally and defeat Lincoln 45-40.

The victory earned MacArthur the outright championship of the Central State 8 Conference with a perfect 10-0 record. Had Lincoln knocked off the Generals, the teams would have shared the title in finishing with identical 9-1 marks in the league.

“It was a good game,” said Railer head coach Neil Alexander. “They’re a good team. They’re well coached and great kids…[it was] just a great basketball game.”

Coach Neil Alexander

The Generals jumped out to a 6-0 advantage before Drew Hayes hit a shot in the paint to get Lincoln on the scoreboard. Following a pair of MacArthur free throws, Trey Schilling hit a 3-pointer and Frank Sanders scored from inside to pull Lincoln to within 8-7. But the visitors outscored Lincoln 7-3 in the remainder of the period to hold a 15-10 lead heading into the second quarter.

The Railers went on a 6-0 run of their own, getting baskets from Aidan Gowin, Hayes and Sanders to take their first lead at 16-15. The teams traded baskets to put Lincoln up 18-17, but when Sean Lee hit a shot in the lane for the Generals, his basket gave MacArthur a lead 19-18, a lead the Generals would not relinquish.

Lincoln trailed 24-20 at intermission. The Railers got within 3 points of MacArthur twice in the third period, but the Generals went to a stalling offense to limit the Lincoln possessions the rest of the quarter. MacArthur outscored the hosts 11-7 in the third period to lead 35-27 heading into the final stanza.

It was more of the same in the final period, as MarArthur held the ball in an effort to run down the clock on the Railers. However, Lincoln showed some extra tenacity with its defense and press in the final quarter, and the Railers managed to whittle the visitors’ lead to three points twice at 39-36 and 41-38. Unfortunately for Lincoln though, the Generals took advantage of more free throw attempts than the Railers had to seal the win. MacArthur hit 8 of 12 free throw attempts in the final quarter, including their last seven in a row, to emerge with a 45-40 win.

“You could see right there why I would like to have the shot clock,” Alexander said. “We’re hoping it comes in sooner instead of later, but we’re probably a couple years out from that. But that game doesn’t go down like that if there was a shot clock.”

Alexander said he was pleased with his team’s performance down the stretch.

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“Our kids fought,” he said. “I thought we played the last three or four minutes the way we should. We got some turnovers out of the full-court denial and we made things happen. I thought we played it well. They missed a few free throws, but they also made some. We were just a step slow in some spots.”

Aidan Gowin

Stevie Tatum led all scorers with 18 points for the General. Hayes and Gowin led the Railers with a dozen points each.

The win improved MacArthur’s overall record to 23-3. Lincoln fell to 20-9 overall and finished with an 8-2 mark in the conference.

While the Railers were defeated by the Generals, the day was not a total loss as Lincoln found out it earned the No. 1 seed in the 9-team postseason sub-sectional. Lincoln play its opening contest at Springfield Lanphier on Feb. 21 at 6 PM against the winner of the Feb. 19 game between Springfield and Sacred Heart-Griffin.

But the Railers have two regular season contests to play before the postseason tournament: Tuesday, Feb. 13 at Prairie Central and Friday, Feb. 16 at home against Champaign Central on senior night.

Alexander stressed that the Railers should not look past their upcoming opponents.

“We’ve got one more week and then we’re into the postseason,” he said. “We’ve got two big games next week; we need to take them one at a time and take care of business. It’s not an easy week for us. We’ve got to get focused on what we’re trying to do and where we want to be in another week.”

[Loyd Kirby]


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