Railsplitters rise up

  • Floor general: After getting his feet wet and starting at point guard as a freshman, Lincoln’s Blair Bowes is back for his sophomore campaign. He scored 18 points against Robeson and has improved his game.

  • He shoots, he scores: Lincoln senior guard Raymond Fred lit up visiting Robeson for 29 points in Monday’s 76-70 win. Fred is averaging 20 points per game in Division C play.

  • Dynamic duo: Abraham Lincoln basketball players Raymond Fred (left) and Blair Bowes present matchup nightmares for opponents. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

By all ac­counts, Blair Bowes and Ray­mond Fred had suc­cess­ful go-rounds for the Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln bas­ket­ball team in 2012-13. 

As a fresh­man point guard, Bowes was the team’s second-lead­ing scorer, and Fred, a ju­ni­or shoot­ing guard also in his first varsity cam­paign, was close be­hind as Lin­coln’s third op­tion. However, if you ask both play­ers how their first varsity sea­son went, they’ll point to Lin­coln’s 5-13 over­all re­cord, as well as the 4-8 Di­vi­sion C mark that was good enough to qual­i­fy them for the play­offs, but not much more.

Now, an­oth­er year older, wiser and bet­ter, Bowes and Fred have of­fi­cially bid last sea­son farewell. In ad­di­tion to be­ing team­mates at Lin­coln, the two play AAU ball to­geth­er, so an en­tire sum­mer of play­ing along­side one an­oth­er has paid ma­jor di­vidends for the Railsplit­ters early on in 2013-14.

Take Monday af­ter­noon’s home con­test against di­vi­sion foe Paul Robe­son for ex­ample. After a 5-2 non-league stretch (in­clud­ing wins over Freire Charter of Di­vi­sion B and Fath­er Judge, as well as a close loss to Arch­bish­op Ry­an), Lin­coln opened Di­vi­sion C play with a win over Mas­tery North. Then, its mettle was in­stantly tested, as the Railsplit­ters lost three straight to di­vi­sion rivals West Philly, Straw­berry Man­sion and highly re­garded Cent­ral by a com­bined nine points, one of which was on a buzzer beat­er. 

So how would Bowes, Fred and com­pany re­spond against vis­it­ing Robe­son, which came in­to the con­test with a 3-1 mark in Di­vi­sion C?

With sheer gump­tion and tough­ness, and a lot of help from the team’s two best play­ers.

Fred poured in a ca­reer-high 29 points, and Lin­coln needed every one of them, while the steady, shifty Bowes ad­ded 18 in sup­port of his team­mate in the Railsplit­ters’ crit­ic­al 76-70 vic­tory that put them right back in the mix in Di­vi­sion C.

“Things just went the right way, which was really great, be­cause we needed that after the last three,” Bowes said. “Last year we were 5-13, and of course we’re bet­ter than that. I know we’ve got play­ers. I’m a good point guard, and I have guys around me who can score the bas­ket­ball. I think we can def­in­itely get back to the play­offs when we play as good as we did today.”

Des­pite cer­tain stretches where it lacked de­fens­ive in­tens­ity (Robe­son turned a 36-24 first-half de­fi­cit in­to a 56-56 tie early in the fourth be­fore Bowes’ and Fred’s hero­ic fourth-quarter ef­forts put the game away), Lin­coln’s of­fense looked ex­tremely in-sync. Bowes is as pure a point guard as you’re bound to see, and he mixes an abil­ity to score with his tech­nic­al abil­it­ies of see­ing the court and be­ing able to find open team­mates. Hav­ing a weapon like Fred — who can score at will — at his dis­pos­al makes Bowes’ job so much easi­er.

“He can light up the court so fast,” Bowes said of Fred. “We know each oth­er out there; I find him, and he finds me. Hon­estly, he makes me look bet­ter, be­cause I know my as­sist num­bers could go from one to eight in about three minutes. If I pass it to him and he’s open, he’s hit­ting it, but he can also get to the rack and draw fouls, which makes things bet­ter for us.”

Fred scored 11 of his 29 points in the crit­ic­al fourth quarter, in­clud­ing a per­fect 6-for-6 at the foul line when Robe­son was still breath­ing down the Railsplit­ters’ necks.

“Last year, I was kind of the third or fourth guy,” Fred said. “Now after work­ing really hard this sum­mer, I came back and kind of felt like it was my team, so I’m try­ing to take over. Per­son­ally, I think we’re one of the best teams in the di­vi­sion, and we shouldn’t have lost the games we lost. A win like this, it mo­tiv­ates us just as much as those losses did.”

And when Fred says “take over,” it shouldn’t be mis­taken for any semb­lance of selfish­ness. As the team’s point guard, Bowes dir­ects the show, and he and Fred, as well as he and the rest of the sup­port­ing cast, seem to per­fectly com­ple­ment each oth­er be­cause of the point guard’s abil­ity to see every­body on the floor.

“It’s really easy to play with Blair, be­cause he draws so much at­ten­tion,” Fred said. “If he gets in the middle, the de­fense will col­lapse think­ing he’s go­ing to shoot, only to have him kick it out for an open shot. The de­fens­ive at­ten­tion he gets al­lows me to sag off to shoot a three, or get my­self to the buck­et. 

“As a res­ult, our chem­istry is good. All the per­son­al­it­ies, we put that to the side; we just want the wins and to make it to the play­offs. I’m a seni­or, so of course I want to make things hap­pen. I want the ball in my hands at the end of the game.”

You can add Fred and Bowes’ head coach to the list of grow­ing be­liev­ers.

“Blair is just a true point guard, al­ways look­ing to get his team­mates in­volved,” said Al Brown, Lin­coln’s fourth-year coach. “And Ray, he’s just a flat-out scorer that brings that type of men­tal­ity to the game. They com­ple­ment each oth­er per­fectly. It makes my job easi­er know­ing I have two coaches on the floor, two ex­ten­sions of my­self. I know Blair will take care of the ball, just like I know Ray will hit the big shots, while still hav­ing con­fid­ence in the team­mates around them.”

In ad­di­tion to Fred and Bowes, seni­or Akquil Har­ring­ton ad­ded 11 points, six re­bounds and three steals, while fel­low seni­or Zy­hir Baker-Elam notched 10 of his 11 re­bounds in the first half for Lin­coln (7-5, 2-3 di­vi­sion). Ji­haad Fluel­len led Robe­son (4-4, 3-2) with 23 points.

As for where they go from here, Fred and Bowes just hope the car drops them off a little fur­ther on down the road than it did a sea­son ago when the Railsplit­ters won just five games total. On Monday, in the first week of Janu­ary, they won their sev­enth.

“We want to make the play­offs, and we think we have a bit of a fa­vor­able sched­ule com­ing up,” Fred said. “I think we can do it, so long as we keep hav­ing ef­forts like this. We know, and every­body knows, that de­fense wins games, and we played real good ‘D’ today when we had to and locked them down in the fourth.”

“Nobody on this team gets mad at each oth­er,” Bowes said. “If I do something dumb, I’ll say ‘my bad’ and make up for it on the next one. I know I have a big role on this team, I un­der­stand that. I’m just a sopho­more, but all of these seni­ors trust my word.

“For sure we think we can go far to­geth­er. When things are go­ing well, that’s how I like it to be. I nev­er want it to go bad. I love the game of bas­ket­ball and I love my team. That’s the type of per­son I am. I come out and play hard, and I’ve got a lot of heart. I think we all do.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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