Lincoln's title at Collinsville featured teamwork, deadly 3-point shooting

News-DemocratDecember 30, 2013 

— Lincoln senior Max Cook was clutching his Most Valuable Player award Saturday night, but he wanted to hand it to teammate Edward Bowlby.

Cook and the top-seeded Railsplitters (11-0) had just defeated third-seeded Althoff 66-56 to win the 30th annual Collinsville-Schnucks Holiday Classic.

It was the second time this season that Cook, a 6-foot-2 point guard, had received an honor he felt belonged to Bowlby, a 6-3 senior.

"I'm starting to get a little angry because my teammates are playing so well," Cook said. "At Lincoln, Edward Bowlby didn't get all-tournament and he played really well there. This tournament, I felt he should have been the MVP. He played outstanding."

Cook was an all-tournament pick in the Lincoln-Eaton Electrical Round Robin in November, won by the Railsplitters.

"His all-tournament trophy from our first tournament is still sitting on the chalkboard in our locker room," 23rd-year Railsplitters coach Neil Alexander said. "He didn't feel like he deserved it. He gave it to Ed and Ed said, 'Man, you earned it.'

"That's the kind of team we've got. They cover each other's back. It's fun coaching them. It's exactly why I'm in this profession. I love our guys and I'm happy for them for what they did."

Cook did a little of everything for Lincoln, which also won the tournament in 2009. He had 34 points, 30 assists, 15 rebounds, 11 steals and seven 3-pointers.

Bowlby, who had 67 points and 12 3-pointers, was recognized as an all-tournament pick, as was 6-6 junior Gavin Block, who had 51 points, 23 rebounds and six 3-pointers.

There was discussion about the entire Lincoln team receiving the MVP award, since contributions came from up and down its lineup. Seniors Joey Olden and Tyler Horchem and junior Payton Ebelherr also had their moments.

Block had 21 points, Bowlby had 19 and Ebelherr came off the bench and had 10 against Althoff (8-3).

"They're really good," Althoff coach Greg Leib said. "The only way I'd play them next time is if one rim is only 9 1/2 feet every other time down."

The Railsplitters reached the title game with wins over Granite City (60-22), McCluer North (71-40) and Belleville East (53-25). They survived Althoff's fourth-quarter comeback and avenged a 58-51 loss to the Crusaders in the 2008 championship game.

Lincoln was 44-for-90 on 3-pointers (49 percent), breaking the tournament record for most 3s. The former mark was 35 set in 1996 by Peoria.

The Railsplitters typically drive the lane, and when the defense collapses, they pass outside for an uncontested 3, which spells doom for their foes.

"We spend a lot of time at dribble-drive and kick," Alexander said. "We think we're pretty good shooters stepping into our shot. We pass up some layups that I would like us to take, but our guys just play really well together. We're a hard team to guard."

Defensively, Lincoln yielded an average of 35.8 points per game. The Railsplitters committed just 27 turnovers while forcing 74. They scored 87 points off turnovers; their opponents scored 21, with Althoff accounting for 13.

"It would be hard to match our defense," Alexander said. "Our kids take pride in our defense," Alexander said.

Cook gave the Railsplitters a subpar grade against Althoff, however. Lincoln led 38-18 early in the third quarter and 55-36 in the opening stages of the fourth quarter, only to see the Crusaders trim the lead to 58-55 with under two minutes to play.

A three-point play by Bowlby kept Lincoln in control.

"This game, we did not play any defense," Cook said. "But the first three games, that's the best defense we've probably played on any team I've been on in high school.

"I know I was tired (against Althoff). But you've got to fight through that. We run all the time in practice. We're a very well-conditioned team. We should have played better defensively down the stretch that game."

Lincoln will be back in the Classic in 2014 to defend its title. The tournament dates are Dec. 27, 29 and 30. Dec. 28 is a Sunday, so the tournament will break that day before resuming.

"It's been a great tournament," Alexander said. "It's well-run. Our (fans) love coming down here and I love coming down here. You play good teams, and if you don't have a good team, you're going to have your hands full. We competed very well here."

300 for Leib

Leib collected his 300th career victory in the quarterfinals Friday when Althoff drubbed Urbana 73-55.

"I took longer than anybody alive to get to 300 wins," cracked Leib, in his 16th season at Althoff. "What a blur. I'm 47 and each year has been a gift. It really has."

Leib's 301st win was probably the Crusaders' most impressive of the season --a 63-53 decision over second-seeded East St. Louis.

"Keenen Young had a coming-out party," Leib said of his sophomore who scored a game-high 22 points. "He picked his game up. He saw some lanes and was finishing. (Kevin) Renner stabilizes us so well, gets us where we need to be. (Brendon) Gooch rebounded well. (Jordan) Goodwin was solid all game.

"I got Christmas late this year. UPS or FedEx delivered that one."

Goodwin and Gooch both were named to the all-tournament team. Others named to the team were: East St. Louis' Jeremiah Tilmon; Belleville East's Darreon Reddick; Oakville's Ervin Sarajlic and Austin Gillmann; and Springfield Southeast's Jalen Henry.

Henry is headed to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, while Sarajlic and Gillmann are St. Louis University-bound.

Sarajlic averaged 26.5 points as Oakville won fifth place. The 6-11 Gillmann averaged 21 points and 14.3 rebounds. He had 57 rebounds, just shy of the tournament record of 60 set by O'Fallon's Chris Thunell in 1994.

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.

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