By Mike Monahan
It didn’t look good for the Charleston boys basketball team before the Apollo Conference game Saturday at Baker Gym/
After all, the Trojans had lost to Lincoln 48-15 on Dec. 9.
Lincoln and Charleston had met 11 previous times with the Railsplitters winning all 11 and by an average score of 53-32 with only two games decided by 10 points or fewer (Feb. 26, 2020 in a 43-34 game and Feb. 9, 2021 in a 51-44 loss).
This is the final time the two teams would meet in the Apollo as the Railspllitters are leaving the conference after this season to rejoin the Central State Eight after a six-year run in the Apollo.
The Trojans fought Lincoln (22-4 overal, 8-1 Apollo) throughout the game before falling, 46-40.
Charleston went to its 3-point shooting. Didn’t matter if players were just beyond the line or from NBA range — if they were open, they were going to shoot.
“It was fun,” said Caleb Oakley. “The first open look is the one that was going up. Obviously, it worked out pretty well. The more shots we got, the more likely we were going to make shots and keep it close. That is what we did.’
The game featured six lead changes and neither team led by more than nine — and that was in the final 10 seconds of the game.
“It was a huge improvement from the first time,” said Charleston coach A.J. Alexander. “I told the guys in the locker room ‘don’t hang your heads, keep them up.’ This was the closest game we had against Lincoln. I admire the heck out of the fight our guys had. They didn’t quit. They didn’t back down. I told them, “I wish we would have won, but this is exactly the fuel that we need heading into our last four games and postseason.”
Charleston’s Will Applegate sank the second and final two-point field goal from the middle of the free-throw lane to help CHS close within 34-33 with 6:33 left. However, a second later Applegate was on the floor after injuring his ankle. He did not return.
“We told the guys in the locker room and on the court: “control the controllables,” said Alexander. “We can’t control basketball injuries. I wish we could. We can control how you respond to what happens next and how are you going to play the next game. How are you going to play for your teammates and how are you going to play with a guy hurt. It is all about next play mentality and how we respond. I think our guys continued to respond throughout the rest of the game, which was great.”
A free throw and a basket by 6-foot-7 Payton Cook as well as a pair of free throws by Drew Hayes made it 39-33 with 4:44 left. Neither team scored again for more than two minutes until Charleston’s Caleb Oakley made two free throws with 2:23 remaining.
The Railsplitters left the door open, making only 2-of-7 from the free-throw line until Trey Schilling made five of six free throws in the final 1:40. His final two with 39 seconds left made it 45-37.
Lincoln played its traditional 1-2-2 defense, while Charleston played man-to-man.
“They are a really good shooting team and they can fire from anyone of the four shooters around the perimeter,” said Lincoln coach Neil Alexander, who has more than 900 career high school basketball wins. “I don’t care: any team that we have ever had has trouble covering four shooters like that.”
Charleston finished 10-of-28 from 3-point range, including 6-of-14 in the first half. Lincoln made one adjustment in the second half.
“We forced them to shoot from a little bit longer in the second half,” said Neil Alexander. “They were not as successful as they were in the first half (4-of-14), but that is a good basketball team. They are scary. “
Cook led Lincoln with 17 points, including a dunk in the opening 30 seconds for what was its first basket of the game.
Charleston led 6-2 in the opening minute on two 3-pointers. All of the Trojans scoring in the first half was on 3-pointers as they trailed 24-18.
“We tried to warn our guys that it (their first game) was earlier in the year and defense usually gets caught by the offense towards the end of the year and that is a good point tonight in that is what happened,” said Neil Alexander. “ Our defense was very good back then. Offense only gets better as the season goes on and they ((Charleston) really made us earn the win today. “
Lincoln was 18-of-30 from the free-throw line, including 13-of-24 in the second half, while the Trojans were 6-of-11.
“That (Lincoln) is a great team offensively and defensively and they are very well coached,” said Caleb Oakley. “To be within six without James Hess (rolled an ankle in practice and missed Thursday and Saturday’s game, but is expected back for practice Monday) and without Applegate for most of the fourth quarter is pretty impressive and something Charleston teams have not done. They (Lincoln) have dominated the Apollo (won the conference four of five years) since they joined and to keep them close the last time we will play them is good.”
Caleb Oakley and Applegate led CHS with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
“It is always a sucker punch to the face when that happens (injury),” said A.J. Alexander.”Our coaches really feel for him and we all hope he is OK because it stinks for a senior — and a pretty good one, too.”
A.J. Alexander said there are a lot of positives to take away from the game.
“I told my coaches after the game, ‘We are definitely walking out like we thought we won,’ ” said A.J. Alexander. “It is a pride piece for our guys. Hey this is a story that we are going to continue to write. A team that fights through adversity and continues to push forward no matter what the obstacles have been in our way. We are walking out with a win in our own way, I guess you could say, in our stat category.”
Charleston (9-14 overall, and 4-6 in the Apollo) will try to snap a four-game losing streak Tuesday at Effingham in another Apollo Conference contest.
LINCOLN: Schilling 1 5-6 8, Carson 0 0-1 0, Blivin 3 2-2 8, Hayes 1 4-10 6, Cook 6 5-8 17, Nelson 0 0-0 0, Gowin 1 1-2 5. Totals 12 18-30 46
CHARLESTON: Spour 0 2-4 2, Bonstetter 2 0-0 6, Applegate 3 2-2 10, King 1 0-1 2, Caleb Oakley 3 2-2 11, Dunklin 0 0-0 0, Sipes 0 0-0 0, Tyler Oakley 3 0-2 9. Totals 12 6-11 40
3-point goals: Charleston 10 -28 .357 (T. Oakley 3-5, C. Oakley 3-10, Bonstetter 2-7, Applegate 2-4,Sipes 0-2,), Lincoln 2-11 (Gowin 1-,2 Schilling 1-3, Cook 0-1, Nelson 0-4, Hayes 0-1). Rebounds: Charleston 24 (King 6), Lincoln 22 (Cook, Hayes 5). Bench points: Lincoln 5, Charleston 9. Turnovers: Charleston 9, Lincoln 6. Field goal shooting: Charleston 12-34 (.353), Lincoln 13-29 .(448).