NEWARK, N.J. — It was about the most powerful statement Dwayne (Tiny) Morton could make to his highly touted, underachieving and inexperienced team.
On the court for Lincoln in the final three minutes of an embarrassing 89-53 loss to No. 3 St. Benedict’s in the Newark National Invitational at the Prudential Center Saturday night were seldom used Lazaro Martinez, Robert Paul, Eric Young and Mike White joining Anthony Allen.
The seniors, led by Lance Stephenson, who are supposed to lead the Railsplitters to a fourth consecutive PSAL Class AA title, were sulking on the bench.
“The seniors didn’t play well at all,” Morton said. “I told them, ‘(St. Benedict’s) is going to play you man-to-man and there’s no shot clock so if you rush and take bad shots, it’s because of you, not because of the (other) team.’”
Lincoln could still win the city championship, but against national competition, the Railsplitters look pedestrian. After back-to-back losses to Jamesville-Dewitt (N.Y.) and LeFlore (Ala.) last weekend, Lincoln dropped two straight games in the Garden State this weekend.
The Railsplitters followed up a bad performance in a 57-54 overtime loss against Paterson Catholic at Rutgers University Friday night with an even worse outing against undefeated St. Benedict’s at the Rock 24 hours later. Morton said the loss in Piscataway lingered and made its way to Newark.
“I didn’t think it would, but it did,” Morton said. “I didn’t think the guys were fatigued, but they were just worrying about what happened last game.”
The Gray Bees (21-0) jumped on Lincoln (12-8) from the tip, scoring 14 of the game’s first 16 points and racing out to a 21-6 first-quarter lead on a layup by Tavon Sledge, who finished with 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting. The Railsplitters defense, especially on the perimeter, was non-existent as St. Ben’s, led by Myck Kabongo (game-high 23 points), got to the basket at will.
As was the case against Paterson Catholic, the Railsplitters treated the basketball as if it was a grenade and St. Benedict’s capitalized, scoring 25 points off 30 turnovers. Senior point guard Darwin (Buddha) Ellis had 15 points, but finished with 12 turnovers — 11 in the opening 16 minutes.
“We’ve got quick, athletic and aggressive defenders,” St. Benedict’s coach Dan Hurley said. “(Lincoln) is probably used to being the quicker, more aggressive team. I think our depth really has a wearing affect on teams.”
Stephenson finished with 19 points on 9-of-21 shooting and 10 rebounds. The 6-foot-6 guard, one of the top unsigned players in the Class of 2009, declined comment after the game.
It was a stunning result that even had Hurley scratching his head afterward.
“Once (Lincoln) realized they weren’t going to have an opportunity to win the game I think they got down on themselves,” Hurley said. “We’ve got such a team bench that when we go second unit and the other team goes second unit, the game extends…We have spurtability this year, which we haven’t had the last couple of years.”
Although this is the worst loss for Lincoln this season, Morton said his team hasn’t reached “rock bottom.”
“Not yet, no, not rock bottom,” he said. “We could never get rock bottom. At rock bottom you quit and we’re not quitting yet. Never.”
After losing four of the last five games, Lincoln returns to league play Feb. 3 against Thomas Jefferson and then faces Boys & Girls and Canarsie to close out the league season.
However, the Railsplitters, 2-7 in showcase games, still have to meet St. Patrick’s (N.J.) in the Super Six at Fordham University, which will be televised live on ESPN2, and Westchester (Calif.) again at the Primetime Shootout in Trenton, N.J.
“It’s the way we’re losing. If you’re losing the game playing hard, it’s a different story,” Morton said. “But if you just bow down to certain teams, that’s not right.”