BLOOMNGTON — With his Lincoln High School team holding a four-point lead with two minutes remaining Tuesday, Ben Grunder had no intention of letting that advantage slip away.
"We knew we had to close the game," said Grunder, the Railsplitters' 6-foot-2 senior workhorse. "We had a lot invested in it and we weren't going to let them take it away."
Grunder made the investment pay off, cashing in with 30 points by finishing the game with four straight free throws that sealed Lincoln's 53-45 nonconference win over Class 4A No. 8 Bloomington at the Robert Frank Sports Complex.
"It was a great game for us, playing this competition with athletes like that and their quickness," said Lincoln coach Neil Alexander, whose unranked squad also got 15 from Isaiah Bowers while improving to 21-5. "We're going to have to do that to win a regional and that's our goal right now."
For the Purple Raiders, who slipped to 17-7, the loss served as a teaching moment.
"The takeaway, the only thing I told (our players) was they beat us because they were more disciplined," said BHS coach Micheal Mosley. "Down the stretch, we didn't execute because we didn't play together. Everybody on this team has to sacrifice."
As the focal point of Lincoln's defense, BHS junior forward Chris Payton finished with 13 points to share the team lead with guard Patrick Fisher.
"He's such a big part of that team. When he gets going and everyone starts focusing in on him, the other guys start making plays," Grunder said of Payton. "Tonight I think we threw them out of their rhythm and flustered them by taking Chris out of the equation a little bit."
The Railers never trailed after Grunder hit a 3-pointer just before the first-quarter buzzer to make it 9-7. He shot 7 of 9 from the field with two treys and made 14 of 16 free throws.
"Ben Grunder had a great game. He got to the basket," said Alexander, who won his 800th game in Lincoln's previous contest. "He's just strong with the ball. He's a strong individual and he uses his body well. He attacked the basket. This is by far one of his better games."
Mosley was displeased by the disparity in foul shots, as his entire team went 13 of 17 at the line.
"We just felt like we had an inconsistent whistle all night," said Mosley. "They (the officials) were telling me they're not seeing contact at the rim when we're attacking inside with both of our bigs, but then Grunder's shooting threes and getting free throws."
Lincoln's style dictated the majority of the first half as the guests led 22-17 at intermission on 12 points from Bowers and 10 from Grunder while Johnson had eight and Payton seven for BHS.
"A lot of teams are surprised by our zone. It's pretty unusual and sometimes teams can never find an offensive flow against it," said Grunder.
The Raiders committed five first-quarter turnovers and struggled to get the ball to Payton, who didn't score until he hit a pair of free throws with 5:41 left in the second to trim Lincoln's lead to 16-9.
He followed with a steal and layup as the Raiders went on a 9-2 surge to pull within two at 18-16. But Lincoln responded with a four-point possession when Bowers hit the first of two foul shots, Drew Bacon rebounded his missed second try and Grunder drained a 3-pointer.
Lincoln then went on a 10-2 run to start the third quarter, going up 32-19 on a 3 by Bowers before BHS closed within eight by the end of the period.
Fisher then got hot for the Raiders in the fourth, finishing a three-point play after a Payton block and following with a steal and layup that pulled BHS within 45-42. A Payton free throw with 2:16 left trimmed the deficit to 49-45 but the hosts got no closer.
"I wanted to schedule this game so we could play a contrasting style to what we had been playing," said Mosley. "They're really disciplined and they're really good. Down the stretch they proved they were more disciplined than us."