FORT MYERS, Fla. – When the Lincoln boys’ basketball team takes to the road to play in major tournaments, like the 36th annual City of Palms Classic, it brings more than just its uniforms and sneakers.
The Railsplitters bring a reputation – one that often intimidates opponents.
But Wheeler (Ga.) wasn’t going to get shook. That’s because its starting guard is from Brooklyn.
In the quarterfinals of the most prestigious high-school tournament in the country on Saturday night, Wheeler point guard Phil Taylor took Brooklyn to Lincoln in a dominating performance, leading the Wildcats to a 101-84 thrashing of No. 16 Lincoln at a packed Bishop Verot HS.
Taylor, a Brooklyn-born junior guard, matched Lincoln superstar Lance Stephenson with a game-high 26 points and dominated the Railsplitters’ backcourt.
“He killed us,” Lincoln coach Dwayne (Tiny) Morton said of Taylor. “I’m happy to see that he played well, but he destroyed us.”
And just think, had he not moved to the Atlanta area with his father after eighth grade, Taylor said he would have attended Lincoln.
“It was real big,” Taylor said. “Now I’ve got something to brag about when I go back there in the summertime.”
Taylor helped carry a Wheeler team with two Division I signees to the semifinals where it will meet No. 1 Mater Dei (Calif.), which edged Roman Catholic (Pa.) in a 72-70 thriller in the nightcap Saturday.
In a Fort Myers gym, for a team from Marietta, Ga., Taylor was playing a neighborhood game against the Railsplitters. It was a game he couldn’t wait to play once he found out they were matched up against Lincoln.
“I was so hyped, I called all my buddies back at home, told him we were playing them,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t sleep last night.”
Lincoln, which came to Fort Myers with hopes of playing in one of the two games televised on ESPNU on Monday – both the final and third-place game are on the network live – will instead face Roman Catholic in the consolation bracket Monday at 3:30 p.m. Its best case scenario now is fifth place.
Stephenson, who scored 37 points in an opening-round win against Briarcrest (Tenn.) Friday night, scored nine points in the first six minutes of Saturday’s quarterfinal. But a cheap reaching foul with 35 seconds left in the first quarter was his second. Morton benched Stephenson for the rest of the first half.
“That was unbelievable,” Morton said. “I’m getting tired of that, I’m getting tired of these fouls when he can avoid it. That reach-in kills us every time.”
With Stephenson off the court, Wheeler (4-2) went on a 20-4 run and took a nine-point lead into the locker room. They never trailed again.
Lincoln (6-2) cut its deficit to five late in the third quarter, but Wake Forest-bound Ari Stewart scored on a layup and Taylor followed with a three-point play. Each time the Railsplitters would make a run, they failed to get the stop they needed on the defensive end.
Wheeler also won the rebounding battle, 35-32, but the Wildcats had six more offensive rebounds. At times it simply seemed they wanted it more than the Railsplitters, which irritated Morton.
“They were too active, too active for my liking,” Morton said. “Sometimes some guys have to go out of position and play bigger guys that do different things and today we didn’t do it.”
Stewart had 25 points and eight rebounds, Tahj Tate added 24 points and North Carolina State signee Richard Howell had 16 points and 12 boards for Wheeler. Darwin (Buddha) Ellis had 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting, Anthony Allen was impressive with 14 points and Davon Wells came off the bench to score 11 points for Lincoln.
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