Railers lead wire-to-wire in nonconference win over Prairie Central 51-39

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[February 15, 2024]  Fairbury – With the Central State 8 title awarded to Decatur MacArthur last week and the seedings for the regionals released a few days ago, some observers may feel a Tuesday night non-conference basketball game during the last week of the regular season might not mean a lot.

Railer head coach Neil Alexander is not among that group.

In a game where his team led from start to finish in a 51-39 victory, the veteran coach was just as passionate and analytical of the effort from his squad as if the game had been a conference championship. Of particular concern in his postgame analysis was the collective effort the Railers in securing rebounds, as Alexander said that area of the game is of utmost importance for a team to fare well in the postseason.

Coach Neil Alexander

“I don’t know if it’s the nature of our kids, but we’re just non-aggressive on the rebounds,” he said. “If you’re going to win in the postseason, you’ve got to be able to get rebounds. You can’t give people two and three and four shots every trip down the floor. I think they’re trying, but you’ve got to be somebody that wants that ball and goes through somebody to get it.

“We’ve got to try to continue to get better at that. That aspect alone is going to carry us to a regional title if we choose to.”

The Railers jumped out to a 4-0 lead on field goals from Drew Hayes and Aidan Gowin. Lincoln led 10-9 near the end of the first quarter before Brady Miller hit a 3-pointer and Hayes made a field goal as the Railers scored the final 5 points of the stanza to lead 15-9.

The Railers extended the lead to 8 points at 21-13 near the midway point of the second quarter, but 5 straight Prairie Center points pulled the Hawks to within 3 at 21-18. But another Railer run—this time of 8 consecutive points—closed out the half and Lincoln held a 29-18 advantage. Gowin hit his second 3-pointer of the half and Trey Schilling hit 3- and 2-point field goals for the Railers.

Trey Schilling

Prairie Central outscored Lincoln 16-13 to pull closer at 42-34 after three periods. The Railers, however, scored 9 straight points in the final quarter, sandwiched by a Prairie Central field goal to open the scoring and a trey to close it out. Lincoln outscored the host school 9-5 in the final stanza, and Lincoln won 51-39.

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While rebounding was his main focus following the game, Alexander said he saw several positives for the Railers.

“I thought we executed pretty well,” he said. “We did a lot of good things. I thought we took care of the ball.

“The thing that’s got me buffaloed is our rebounding, and we’ve just got to try to keep working at it.”

While some might see rebounding as a less important skill than other aspects of the game such as shooting or passing, Alexander maintains that solid rebounding is essential for postseason success.

“One of the statements I’ve always said is that rebounding is one of the hardest things to do in basketball if you do it right,” he explained. “You’ve got to hit somebody, you’ve got to carry their weight and then you’ve got to attack the ball.

“We’re just laid back on it; we’ve got to cure that. One guy can’t do that; it takes five guys, and especially when you’ve got the size that we’ve got. All five of our guys have got to be on that defensive board.”

Hayes and Schilling led Lincoln with 14 points each in the game. Gowin added 8 for Lincoln while Frank Sanders scored 7.

Drew Hayes

The Railers improved their overall record to 21-9 with the victory.

Lincoln’s final regular season game takes place this Friday, Feb. 16 when the Railers host Champaign Central for senior recognition night. All seniors participating in basketball, pep band, cheerleading and dance will be recognized prior to the varsity game. Tipoff for the varsity contest is slated for 7 PM.

Following the Feb. 16 game, the Railers next contest takes place at Lanphier on Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 6 PM in their opening game of the IHSA regional. Lincoln will face the winner of the Feb. 19 game between Sacred Heart-Griffin and Springfield.

[Loyd Kirby]

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