Lincoln High School rolled through the playoffs and beat Jefferson High School at Madison Square Garden last season to win the Public School Athletic League city title for the first time since 2009. Now, Isaiah Whitehead has his sights set even higher — on a state championship.
“I just feel that after we won the city title that some of the guys on our team were content with that and they didn’t play as hard when we went out to states,” Whitehead said. “This year, we’ve got our core group of guys back and we’re not going to settle. We want a state championship.”
The Railsplitters took a bit step in that direction on Saturday when they went out and beat Brooklyn Collegiate 96-73 in Coney Island as three different players scored at least 20 points, Desi Rodriguez led with 27 points, Whitehead had 26 and A.J. Williams had 20, in a dominant victory.
“It was definitely a statement,” Williams said. “We’ve been focused on them all week so we came hard.”
That game was a perfect demonstration as to how dangerous the Railsplitters can be as they started out slow and were tied at 37-37 at halftime. It wasn’t until Whitehead, a Seton Hall commit, went to the bench with foul trouble that they got hot. That’s when Rodriguez and Williams started playing well and Lincoln finished the third quarter with a 65-53 lead.
“We have a good team and everybody on our team can participate in our wins. That’s how we feel so we just pass the ball around and find open shots,” Williams said. “It’s not only one person that can do it. When Whitehead penetrates and they cover him it leaves everyone else open. That’s how we get everyone involved.”
Then in the fourth, when Whitehead returned to the game, they really turned things up as they got great ball movement, played excellent defense, and really ran away with it. Whitehead finished the game with three ally-oops to Rodriguez in the final minutes of the game as a way to tell Brooklyn Collegiate that even though they are a top team in the league, it’s going to take a lot to stop the Railsplitters.
“It was definitely a statement because they were undefeated just like us and everyone has picked them as a team to watch this year so we felt that we had to step up,” Rodriguez said.
“Isaiah knows how to look for me,” Rodriguez added. “He’s got a good IQ and when he sees me put my finger up that he knows to give me the ball.”
Lincoln finished with 96 points and could have had even more, but after the third ally-oop Morton decided he’d seen enough and benched his starters. Morton still felt his team should have scored 100 points though as the officiating was tight, but the Railsplitters couldn’t capitalize and missed 15 free throws.
“I just don’t like (all the foul calls),” Morton said. “The basketball game is terrible right now in terms of how close they are calling the games. You can’t really play, you can’t really coach. I’m really coaching not to get into foul trouble in the second half.”
As dangerous as Lincoln looked, Brooklyn Collegiate is not ready concede anything as they played without their best player, Jahlil Tripp, who is out after he was shot in the leg by a stray bullet last Thursday. Tripp still has the bullet in his leg. He will have it removed on Tuesday and is expected to return to the team sometime in January.
“The teammates were very upset, but they were realistic of the situation,” said Collegiate head coach Jacob Edwards. “They knew they had to step up and compete. We’re trying to keep our heads above water until he comes back.”
After the game, Tripp vowed that he will return strong and the next time that Collegiate faces Lincoln it will be a different story.
“We’ve been telling (Tripp) to keep his head up,” said teammate Rashaad John, who was with Tripp on their way back from a girl’s basketball game when he was shot. “He’ll be back soon, he’ll be playing by February. I think we have enough power to go deep in the playoffs and the next time we face Lincoln it’s going to be a different story.”