Baker Gym is going to have a lot of meaning. Outside of the legendary name that Baker Gym already owns, a battle of undefeated teams in the Apollo Conference will take place. It’s the first time in a long time that the Trojans have major Apollo implications on the line. A win over Lincoln could get a lot of attention from everyone in the conference, but also the state.
Here is the preview of tonight’s game.
Team Records: Charleston (6-2, 3-0) vs. Lincoln (7-0, 2-0)
Where: Baker Gym
Tickets: Tickets can be purchased at Charleston High School
School Size: Charleston (796), Lincoln 810
JV Tip-Off: 6:00 p.m.
Varsity Tip-Off: 7:30 p.m.
Opponent’s History: Hall of Famer coach Neil Alexander enters his 32nd year coaching the boys’ basketball team. Alexander owns an overall record of 732-231, including 18 Regional Championships, five Sectional Championships, four state appearances, and a Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2014.
Lincoln’s Past Results: Lincoln opened the season by winning the Eaton Corporation Tournament in Cahokia. The team won all four games over Cahokia, Danville, Althoff Catholic, and Champaign Centennial. After that, Lincoln won by 20 points over Olympia and Mattoon. They followed that up with a 40-32 win over Taylorville on the road.
Lincoln’s Top Players: Apollo coaches mentioned juniors Jake Biven and Payton Cook as contenders for All-Apollo this year. The two combined for 38 points against Centennial in the championship game. Cook is the nephew of former Lincoln standout Brian Cook, who played basketball at the University of Illinois. Elijah Pollice is the team’s lone senior in the starting lineup.
“We’re young, we’re inexperienced and we’re trying to find our way through it,” Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said to Ryan Mahan of the State Journal Register. “One thing is, we’re going to fight. These kids are fighters and they play hard and they guard. I’m really pleased with where we’re at but we’ve got a long way to go. They’re a good group of kids that’s worked really hard.”
Lincoln’s Team Stats: Lincoln is averaging 56.5 points per game and allowing 33.0 points per game.
Charleston’s Past Results: Charleston has been on a roll in the Apollo as of late. Charleston opened the conference season with a 71-51 win over Mount Zion last Thursday. Then, the team defeated Taylorville 65-47 on the road. Earlier this week, the Trojans narrowly defeated Mahomet-Seymour 42-41 at home.
“Our defense has been key,” said head coach Cody Drone. “We are playing exceptionally hard on that end of the floor and the team is really buying in. Offensively, when we’re shooting the ball well we can compete with anyone but what I really like about this team is we do not need to only rely on shooting to get wins and have success. We have played both inside and outside. I am extremely proud of the effort this team has shown this year.”
Charleston’s Team Stats: Charleston is averaging 59.1 points per game and allowing 57.2 points per game. Grady Smitley hit the game-winning shot with 10.1 seconds left to upset the Bulldogs. Smitley scored seven points altogether, while William Applegate added nine points to complement Jaksen Braun (14 points) and Caleb Oakley (12 points).
“Early, we really looked to Will for scoring because of how athletic and gifted he is on the offensive end,” said Drone. “As the season has gone on and teams have tried to take away his shooting, his driving and finishing ability have been shown to be just as good. He is a very complete ballplayer that is very tough to defend. Grady deserves everything this year. He works extremely hard and is always working on his game. He has improved his defense and is a hard-nosed competitor that wants to win. The game-winning shot at the end of regulation against Mahomet was the product of years of work and dedication.”
What Lincoln Said: Coach did not respond to comment.
What Charleston Said: “Lincoln is a very good team,” said Drone. “They shoot, they defend, and our athletics. Controlling the ball and getting great looks in our offense will be key for us to be competitive with them. Their zone defense does not have many holes, but if we shoot the ball well, we will be able to find open looks. Defensively, we will need to be extremely solid and block out every time down the floor. We need to put a high priority on valuing the ball and valuing every possession Friday night. It will be a great test for our team both physically and mentally and I am excited for Friday night.