By Zachary Braziller
Shaquille Stokes has spent much of his sophomore year either out of action or badly struggling. He was hailed as the next great player at Lincoln, a combo guard that could smoothly run the Railsplitters for a season and take over when Lance Stephenson, James Padgett and Darwin (Buddha) Ellis graduated.
Instead, it’s been a challenge. He was suspended five games by the school for disciplinary reasons in December and had yet to find his consistency.
“It’s tough when you’re a sophomore surrounded by all these seniors,” Lincoln coach Dwayne (Tiny) Morton said. “I told him to wait.”
That was no longer an option Tuesday evening.
With Stephenson and Ellis planted on the bench in foul trouble and the Railsplitters’ lead over Thomas Jefferson cut to one, 50-49, with 4:50 left in the third quarter, the 6-foot Stokes took charge.
He scored six of his 18 points in a game-changing, 14-5 run that gave Lincoln a 64-55 lead after three quarters and paved the way to an 88-81 win in East New York. The Railsplitters, courtesy of the victory, lead Brooklyn AA with two games to play – home for Boys & Girls Thursday and Canarsie Saturday.
“This game meant a lot to us,” Stephenson said.
There were no Orange Wave (14-8, 11-2 Brooklyn AA) guards that could stay with Stokes. He got into the lane at will, sank a few jumpers and found Padgett for a pair of dunks in the fourth quarter to increase the lead. Stokes, who transferred in from St. Patrick (N.J.) this fall, had eight assists and six rebounds in easily his best performance as a Railsplitter.
“They expect a lot from me,” Stokes said. “I wanted to step up. I was the next one to take over the team.”
Stephenson led Lincoln (13-8, 11-2 Brooklyn AA) with 21 points and 20 rebounds, Padgett added 18 points and 12 boards and Davon Walls followed with 15 points off the bench. It was role players such as Walls, the burly forward, Stokes and backup guards Lazaro Martinez and Raymond O’Loughlin that carried the previously struggling Railsplitters.
When Stephenson and Ellis were sent to the bench, Morton, more animated than usual, challenged them all. He said he has often spent more time encouraging such players “who get less respect” than his starters.
“I’m confident in these guys,” Morton said.
Keith Spellman led Jefferson with 31 points and 11 rebounds, Joel (Air Jamaica) Wright followed with 13 points and 11 boards before fouling out in the third quarter and Davontay Grace had 11 points and 16 assists.
Jefferson certainly had its chances, even though Wright fouled out just a few minutes after Stephenson was sent to the bench. Moments after picking up his fourth foul, he threw the ball at the official, drawing a technical and fifth personal.
“I didn’t mean to do it,” he said. “It was a mistake.”
Despite trailing by as many as 11 early in the fourth quarter, the Orange Wave crawled back in the game, led by Spellman’s heroics and timely contributions from guards Corwin Austin and Eric Turpin Jr., who combined for nine points in the final stanza. An 11-2 run got them within two, 73-71, with 3:40 to go.
Unfortunately for Spellman and his teammates, Lincoln sank nine free throws down the stretch and they failed to execute on several possessions, never getting as close again. Stephenson scored five points down the stretch to ice it.
“They thought they could beat us after watching us lose those games on television,” Stephenson said. “We proved them wrong.”
Morton said all the losses – four of five heading into this showdown – took away some of the Coney Island team’s swagger, if not its confidence.
The 11 days off since the 36-point loss to St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.) allowed him to reintroduce roles and utilize new players into a rotation that has expanded.
The Railsplitters were dancing and singing and chanting moments after the final horn. The win over Jefferson, Morton said, brought some of that cocksure attitude back.
But not all of it.
“We,” he said emphatically,” got to keep winning.”