Members of the Lincoln Railsplitters all thought that he should have been at the NBA All-Star game in New Orleans, but they had the next best thing instead — Indiana Pacer and Lincoln High School alumni Lance Stephenson was on hand to provide moral support and motivation as they won the Public School Athletic League’s Brooklyn borough title on Sunday.
“It’s great motivation having him around,” Desi Rodriguez said of Stephenson. “Having him come back to Lincoln and show faith in us, it makes us want to play hard every time out.”
The Railsplitters used that motivation to beat the Jefferson Orange Wave 90-71 behind 26 points from Rodriguez, 21 from Elisha Boone and 20 from Isaiah Whitehead at City College of New York on Sunday. It is their second consecutive borough title.
Stephenson has averaged 14.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game this season and many felt like he deserved to play in the All-Star Game. Rather than spend his break on a beach in the Caribbean, he hung out off the beach in Coney Island where he has attended Lincoln’s practices and games including Sunday’s win over Jefferson.
“This is a guy that can be off doing whatever he wants to on this vacation and he’s here with us showing us support,” Tiny Morton said. “It’s great. He came out to practice this week and talked to the guys. He was at our game the other day and he showed up again today. He’s showing the love which is great.”
Lincoln was also motivated by some words from Jefferson’s head coach Bud Pollard when he said before the game that he expected that his team was finally going to be the one to take Lincoln down. The Railsplitters were only too happy to prove him wrong though as they jumped out to a huge 18-0 lead to start the game off strong.
“I told one of his assistants, it just gave our team a lot of motivation,” Morton said. “I didn’t understand it at all because he doesn’t want to do that. This is a good group, we have a bunch of seniors that have been playing well and we saw today what they are capable of when they’re properly motivated.”
Boone and Whitehead got things going early as they had six and eight points respectively in the first five minutes of the game. Rodriguez took over from there when he scored 18 points by halftime and gave Lincoln a 46-25 lead at the midway point.
Jefferson fought back in the third quarter though and cut a 21-point deficit down to nine points when Devonte Wilson, Patrick Brown and Shamorie Ponds hit back-to-back-to-back threes during an 11-0 run. Whitehead settled things down with a three of his own with 57 seconds left in the third that brought the momentum back to Lincoln.
“We came out and lollygagged a little bit in the third quarter,” Boone admitted. “We’re kind of like that in third quarters, but we’re also a team that has big fourth quarters which is what happened again today. We turn it up late in the game.”
There is something about the way Lincoln played in the fourth quarter. Almost like a chess player thinking two or three moves ahead, they’re able to execute big alley oop plays that let the opposing team know that the game is over.
“It’s like they reach another level,” Morton said. “They’re able to do that because they’re all seniors that have been playing together for a while. They know what they’re doing out there and this is the type of team that I don’t even have to call time out to tell them things a lot of times because they’re able to figure it out on their own.”
After the game ended Lincoln didn’t exactly rush out onto the court like the borough final winners from Queens or the Bronx did. They celebrated, but it was more subdued than the other teams. “We didn’t storm the court because we have bigger goals than this. We’re looking to go way further than this. We want a city and a state title too,” Whitehead said.
“Everybody has heard of us, but they haven’t experienced us,” Whitehead continued. “Today, just by coming to Manhattan and playing like this, we’ve shown everybody that we’re a tough team that is going to be hard to beat.”