SPRINGFIELD — Cut. Pass. Layup. Cut. Pass. 3-pointer.
The Lincoln boys basketball team never faced so much as a threat in and picked apart the Urbana defense in a 70-53 win on Wednesday in the Class 3A Springfield (Southeast) Sectional semifinals to advance to Friday's final against the host Spartans. It's the Railers' first sectional championship game appearance since the 2014 season when Lincoln finished second in state.
“Growing up as a kid, you dreamed of playing in big games like this," Lincoln junior Kaden Froebe said. "Watching the 2013-14 team, it made us want to play in a big game like that. It felt like just the last year, but it flew by and we’re in this game right now. This is everything we dreamed of."
Lincoln (27-4) used an opening-quarter onslaught, missing one shot (10-of-11) in the frame that included a 17-1 run for a 25-5 lead after the first quarter and didn't take its foot off the gas behind a balanced scoring attack of Kaden Froebe, Kameron Whiteman, Dylan Singleton and Jermaine Hamlin, each finishing in double figures for the Railers.
Whitman drained 3-pointer after 3-pointer, Froebe and Singleton knifed through the lane and Hamlin set up on the block and shot over the top of Urbana's (18-15) defenders that included an ally-oop dunk from Whiteman.
Froebe scored a game-high 26 points to go with seven rebounds and three assists. Whiteman added 15 points, Singleton had 10 and Hamlin scored 11 — including the first seven in the row.
Froebe said it was Hamlin's first bucket, a hook shot over his defender, that gave the team additional energy to start the big run in the quarter.
“Our confidence went through the roof," Froebe said. "Our shots were falling in that first quarter. Once your up 20, you can’t let off."
Despite playing less than half the game because of foul trouble, Hamlin and his 6-foot-10 frame and near 72 percent free-throw shooting pace the Railers on most nights. It's exactly why Lincoln has a chance to win a sectional championship against the Class 3A state runner-up Spartans.
“It’s the big guy in the middle," Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said. "You take him out, we’re going to struggle, but we did pretty well tonight. ... He’s really important. You saw what he did for us the first quarter."
In fact, Lincoln showed that it's more than Hamlin in the middle with production up and down the lineup while shooting 58 percent from the field.
“We have a lot of people here who can play for us," Hamlin said. "Anybody off the bench can come in and do stuff for us and anybody is able to knock down shots. It helps to have a lot of people."
Urbana is known for it's fast-paced style, which doesn't exactly play into the hands of Lincoln. Without Hamlin on the floor, the teams raced up and down at high speeds. It wasn't exactly the plan, but it worked out for Lincoln.
The Railers hit five 3-pointers and forced nine Urbana turnovers.
“They made us play fast and made us take quick shots," Alexander said of his team's scoring. "We like to be a little more deliberate, but without Jermaine on the floor we were able to dribble-penetrate. We spread the floor, we got to the basket, we got fouled and we made free throws and made it happen."
There was no special game plan installed for Urbana. Alexander wants to know his opponent's personnel and then play their style of game — and the plan worked to perfection on Wednesday.
“It was nothing different," Hamlin said. "It was just to come out and play as hard as we could and get buckets, basically. Everyone was hot from the beginning."