Men's College Basketball

Trail Blazers slog way into Region 24 title tilt

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 8, 2020 12:40 am Updated: Mar. 9, 2020 12:50 am

QUINCY -- The pace, the rhythm and the flow looked uncomfortable.

Now imagine what it felt like for the John Wood Community College basketball players to muck their way through the first 30 minutes of Saturday's Region 24 tournament semifinal with Rend Lake dragging out every possession.

The Trail Blazers admitted it was as unpleasant as it seemed.

"It was just funky. It was a little bit of a grind," JWCC freshman point guard Aaron Shoot said. "They got us out of our rhythm and our pace a little bit. In the first half, we kind of caved into it and let them do it.

"We made the adjustment in the second half, and it became a toughness thing where you had to stick it out until the end of possessions."

The tougher team survived.

Sparked by a creative play by Shoot and some dead-eye shooting from Ragar McKinney, the top-seeded Trail Blazers overcome a five-point deficit with 11 minutes to play in regulation and dispatched fifth-seeded Rend Lake 69-62 at the Student Activity Center.

JWCC (17-14) will face third-seeded Parkland at 2 p.m. Sunday for the region championship. The winner advances to the NJCAA Division II?national tournament, a trip the Trail Blazers have made three of the past six seasons.

"That's what it's all about," JWCC freshman forward Jarvis Jennings said. "We've got to get some physical and mental rest, and we'll be ready to go."

They won't have to adapt to a cumbersome pace.

Rend Lake dressed only six players, which led to the hold the ball as long as possible offensively. The Warriors committed three shot-clock violations in the first half, but led 24-23 at halftime.

"They did a great job. They really did," JWCC coach Brad Hoyt said. "I've been doing this a long time, and we haven't played against that kind of slow-down pace in a long time, maybe ever. They had a plan, and they executed it extremely well.

"We needed a break. We had to figure out how to put a dink in there a little bit. The second half, we started to do that."

It took a did-you-just-see-that kind of play from Shoot to really jumpstart.

The Trail Blazers trailed 39-34 when Shoot ended up corralling a loose ball on the right side of the floor. He drove hard along the baseline and had McKinney open in the left corner for a kickout 3-point attempt.

Instead, Shoot slipped a pass between two defenders to Chandler Bevans coming down the middle of the lane. Bevans made the shot, drew a foul and completed a three-point play to inject some energy and life into the crowd and the team.

"I could feel it. I was so hyped whenever that happened," McKinney said. "That's what sparked us right there."

It's something Shoot makes a habit of doing.

"Walking into the locker room at halftime, Aaron said, ‘Give me the ball,'" Hoyt said. "When you have guys like that, you know you have a chance. There were a handful of plays in that second half where he just kind of infused his will on and made everybody just breathe a little bit."

In turn, they shot the ball with better rhythm, too.

McKinney drained a 3-pointer from the left corner on the next possession, and Shoot buried a 3-pointer from the left wing with 8:24 remaining to tie the game at 43. After the teams traded 3-pointers, Bevans scored off another Shoot assist for a 48-46 edge with 5:54 to play.

And when Jennings scored on back-to-back possessions, the Trail Blazers were up 53-47 and never trailed again.

"It was hard for us to find a rhythm because we had to go from standing to just go, just go," said Jennings, who finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field. "It was weird. But Coach let us know we'd be OK if we got our stuff together.

"We felt the energy, and we knew we could chip it away. We just ran with it."

Bevans finished with 17 points and six rebounds, while Shoot had 13 points, four assists and two steals and McKinney scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.

It's going to take continued production from both starters and reserves to finally upend Parkland. The Cobras beat the Trail Blazers in both regular-season meetings, winning 75-74 in Champaign on January 25 and 74-68 at the Student Activity Center on February 15.

Parkland beat second-seeded Danville 82-67 with five players in double figures. Sophomore forward Joey Saracco, who has received a scholarship offer from Quincy University, finished with 10 points and 17 rebounds.

But the Cobras weren't tested the way the Trail Blazers were, which could give one of them the edge.

"It gives us confidence," McKinney said. "When we have confidence, no one can stop us."

John Wood 69, Rend Lake 62

REND LAKE

Ayala 5-10 4-9 14, Thomas 4-10 0-0 9, Kiner 5-10 1-2 12, Soll2-9 10-11 15, Rivers 4-4 0-0 9, Burton 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 21-45 15-22 62.

JOHN WOOD

Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Taylor 0-5 0-0 0, Bevans 6-11 5-9 17, Shoot 4-9 4-4 13, Jennings 6-9 3-3 16, Jackson 2-8 3-4 7, McKinney 4-6 0-0 12, Kilby 2-5 0-0 4, Bryson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-55 15-20 69.

Halftime score -- Rend Lake 24, JWCC 23. 3-point field goals -- Rend Lake 5-17 (Ayala 0-1, Thomas 1-4, Kiner 1-6, Soll 1-3, Rivers 1-1, Burton 1-2), JWCC 6-16 (Smith 0-1, Taylor 0-4, Shoot 1-4, Jennings 1-1, McKinney 4-6). Fouls -- Rend Lake 16, JWCC 17. Rebounds -- Rend Lake 29 (Kiner 6, Rivers 6), JWCC 31 (Bevans 6). Assists -- Rend Lake 7 (Soll 3), JWCC 18 (Jackson 6). Steals -- Rend Lake 6 (Kiner 2), JWCC 4 (Smith 2, Shoot 2). Blocks -- Rend Lake 7 (Kiner 6), JWCC 3 (Smith 2). Turnovers -- Rend Lake 15, JWCC 18. Fouled out -- None.