Long after the final horn sounded to signify the end of the regional championship game on Friday, Feb. 28, the floor at the Lincolnwood High School gym was still flooded with people. Some stayed to celebrate the game, while others remained so the season wouldn’t end.
After 13 straight wins on their home court, the Lincolnwood boys basketball team saw their season come to an end on Friday against the Calhoun Warriors by a 53-32 final score.
“What a strong, disciplined team Calhoun is,” Lincolnwood Coach Matt Millburg said after the game. “They cover the lane really well and defend with height. Offensively, they get high percentage shots, at will it seems sometimes. “Our shots didn’t go in, but if they do, I guarantee it’s a different ball game. We prepared the best we could and went in with everything we had. Tonight just wasn’t our night.”
The Lancers, who were chasing their first regional title since 2007, were held in check by a Warrior defense that featured 6’8” Ben Eberlin and 6’7” Corey Nelson clogging up the middle. The pair would also do the bulk of the scoring in the first quarter, and throughout the game, with Eberlin scoring two and Nelson adding six to help give Calhoun a 10-2 lead after eight minutes.
The second quarter would be better for Lincolnwood, with Shawn Goebel heating up with two baskets in the first three minutes to cut the lead to 12-6. But Nelson’s agility and size was problematic for the Lancers as the junior point-forward showed the ability to drive to the basket and dish off to Eberlin, who had six points in the quarter, or take the ball to the hoop himself. He’d finish the quarter with five points to help Calhoun take a 23-14 lead, including two on a dunk right after Goebel’s second basket that sapped some of Lincolnwood’s momentum.
The Lancers would get as close as seven in the final 32 seconds on a three by Will Jenkins, but Eberlin put in a basket in the final seconds to boost the lead back to nine at the break.
Lincolnwood needed a quick start coming out of the locker room to get back into the game, but Calhoun outscored the Lancers 7-2 in the first three minutes of the quarter to boost their lead to 14 points. Goebel and Sam Herman would try to get the Lancers back into the game, trading baskets with Nelson and cutting the lead down to ten, 33-23, but Calhoun would go on an 8-0 run to end the quarter and build up a 41-23 lead.
Lincolnwood got a pair of free throws from Goebel and a three from Evan Hopper to start the fourth quarter, getting the lead down to 13, but another run by the Warriors made it abundantly clear they weren’t going to let the host school back into the contest. Calhoun would outscore the Lancers 12-9 in the final quarter as they secured their first regional title since 2014.
“They have a great coach and we’re rooting for them the rest of the way,” Coach Millburg said of Ryan Graner and the Warriors, who will face West Central on Wednesday, Mar. 4, at the Dupo Sectional.
Eberlin and Nelson would end up with 39 of Calhoun’s 53 points, with Eberlin netting 22 and Nelson adding 17. Brody Caselton and Stone Zirkelbach would add six apiece, while Colby Clark chipped in two for the Warriors, who got the majority of their points from within ten feet of the hoop.
Shawn Goebel would lead Lincolnwood in his last game as a Lancer, putting in 16 points. Fellow seniors Sam Herman and Evan Hopper added four and three respectively. Millburg said that the group, along with fellow 12th graders Tucker Lemon and Dalton Thomas, will be missed.
“Tonight didn’t go our way, but this is probably one of the closest knit teams I’ve ever coached. We have a good group of seniors who we are going to miss greatly,” Millburg said. “What a great group of kids and families we had this year.”
Ultimately, Millburg knows that’s what was really important this year and conveyed that in the locker room after the game.
“The biggest thing I told them is that there’s a lot more to life than basketball and I learn that as I get older. Our team has gone through a lot of stuff outside basketball throughout this whole year, from losing a teammate to losing a long-time friend and radio personality to losing a parent to handling adversity outside of basketball,” said Millburg, referring to the deaths of 2019 senior Austin Krager, Raymond icon Terry Todt and Kim Hopper, mother of senior Evan Hopper. “Tonight didn’t go our way and a lot of people wanted it to, but there is a lot more to take away from this team than that game right there. For us to realize that and continue to push the younger guys and continue what is Lincolnwood basketball is crucial for us.”
More than anything, Friday’s game showed that Lincolnwood basketball is bigger than what goes on between the tip and the final horn. While the home crowd advantage was slightly lessened by the Warriors quick start, the sea of orange and black that filled the bleachers at the Woodshed in Raymond provided a stellar atmosphere for the Lancers’ first regional championship game on their home floor since 2014.
The atmosphere and the season, in which the Lancers won 21 games, again the most since 2014, made it easy to understand why no one wanted the night to end. And while it eventually did, the team will forever have a reminder of what a special year it was.
“They’re forever going to be etched in Lincolnwood history on the banner,” Millburg said, referring to the 20-win banner that hangs behind the basket on one end of the gym. “We had a big win in Nokomis in Kimbro’s last year and we love him. We were undefeated in the county and at home in the regular season. We had a heck of an experience at the Mohawk Classic, losing to Nokomis by one in the championship game. We may not have gotten any first place plaques, but this group is first place in my heart for sure.”
February 28 at Raymond
Class 1A Lincolnwood Regional
Lincolnwood 2 12 9 9 32
Calhoun 10 13 18 12 53
Lincolnwood (32) - Shawn Goebel 16, Will Jenkins 5, Sam Herman 4, Braden Whalen 4, Evan Hopper 3. B 13 4-6 32.
Calhoun (53) - Ben Eberlin 22, Corey Nelson 17, Stone Zirkelbach 6, Brody Caselton 6, Colby Clark 2. Totals: 19 14-18 53.
Three-point field goals: Lincolnwood 2 (Jenkins 1, Hopper 1); Calhoun 1 (Zirkelbach 1).
Records: Lincolnwood (21-12); Calhoun (25-7).