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Soul-searching Railsplitters to face Roman Catholic

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FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Lincoln boys’ basketball season is at a crossroads – and it’s not even New Year’s yet.

The Railsplitters have lost both of their high-profile non-league games this season by a combined 37 points. After losing to Wheeler (Ga.) in the quarterfinals of the City of Palms Classic Saturday night, Lincoln meets Roman Catholic (Pa.) in a consolation game Monday afternoon and could face either Word of God (N.C.) or Westchester (Calif.) on Tuesday.

Then there are games against New Jersey powerhouses Paterson Catholic, St. Patrick’s and St. Benedict’s, as well as match-ups against Westchester (Calif.) and LeFlore (Ala.). That’s why the Railsplitters were in a Bishop Verot HS locker room for nearly an hour after Saturday’s 101-84 loss to Wheeler on Saturday night.

“We’re trying to figure out what kind of team we have,” Lincoln coach Dwayne (Tiny) Morton said. “We’re still young in terms of the entire group playing with each other. Certain old guys got to do things they’re not used to doing.”

On Saturday, that meant group rebounding and better transition defense. The Railsplitters came to Fort Myers hoping they’d play in the televised final Tuesday afternoon. Instead, the best they can do is finish in fifth place and to do that they’ll have to beat a Roman Catholic squad that took No. 1 Mater Dei (Calif.) to the wire in a wild quarterfinal game Saturday night.

Will Lincoln’s loss to Wheeler be a wake-up call?

“I hope. I hope they respond,” Morton said at halftime of the Mater Dei-Roman Catholic thriller. “Whoever loses this game is going to be a really tough team to play.”

While Lincoln (6-2) thought it would play in the final, Morton also thought he’d have a squad at full strength. But Shaquille Stokes, a transfer from St. Patrick’s, was left back in Brooklyn as a result of a disciplinary suspension levied by principal Ari Hoogenboom. Point guard Darwin (Buddha) Ellis has a broken pinky finger and Maryland-bound forward James Padgett has an ankle injury.

The 6-foot-8 forward, though, played 30 minutes against Wheeler, scoring six points and grabbing eight rebounds.

“I’m kind of upset that he played 30 minutes and we’re not forcing the ball in to him,” Morton said. “He’s got an ankle brace on and he’s getting ice, but in 30 minutes he should touch the ball more than five times.”

Lincoln’s next game might be in the consolation bracket, but Roman Catholic (2-2) is certainly not a pushover. The Cahillites nearly beat Mater Dei and its Division I starting lineup in a spectacular quarterfinal game Saturday night. They are led by tough-as-nails point guard Maalik Wayns (Villanova), as well as junior guard Rakeem Brookins, who scored a game-high 27 points against the Monarchs Saturday night.

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