BY AARON PATTERSON
When the Danville Area Community College Jaguars got together during the preseason, coach Mike Carpenter explained to them their potential. He told them that they would likely see the best from every team they faced, and with good reason.
The Jaguars were ranked 13th in the nation among NJCAA Division II programs. How long they kept the recognition depended on their performance on the court. After suffering only one loss in a pair of tournaments, DACC has continued to impress, and just prior to Tuesday’s contest against Division I Lincoln Trail, the Jaguars learned they had been bumped up to No. 5.
Their most recent recognition didn’t seem to faze them, and they defeated a Division I opponent for the second time this season, this time knocking off Lincoln Trail 79-63.
“We talked a lot about that in the preseason that we knew we would get everybody’s best shot,” Carpenter said. ‘We felt in the preseason that we would get ranked and talked about embracing that and taking that as a challenge rather than a burden.
“We do know that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot, but we think our guys can handle that. It’s a lot more fun to be ranked and expected to be good than a team that nobody talks about. That’s kind of the approach we’re taking. Our guys have embraced that, and have done a great job with it.”
Five players scored in double figures Tuesday night, including Mike Ryce (11 points), David Hicks (11 points, 12 rebounds), Derek Shouse (11 points), Kody Tucker (12 points), and Ronnie White, who scored a game high 16 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, and blocked three shots.
The performance offered reassurance for White, who was held scoreless in Sunday’s 79-73 win over Lewis & Clark.
It was the first double-double of the season for White, and an impressive part of the process of continual improvement for the 22-year old student who never played high school basketball.
“He’s improving everyday, and he’s learning to how to play,” Carpenter said. “For a kid that never even played in high school, to take the steps that he’s taken and in a short time, it’s impressive. We understand as coaches that he’s going to have peaks and valleys in his development, but there are times when he can dominate the inside with his shot-blocking presence and rebounding. He’s starting to figure that out — not just in the blocked shots, but he changed a lot of shots. They had to shoot a little bit higher, and that caused their shooting percentages to go down. I couldn’t be happier with him. “
White set a school record with eight blocked shots in his first game of the season against then fifth-ranked Lakeland College, and has recorded 15 blocked shots total in his first seven college basketball games. Tuesday marked the fourth game he has reach double figures in scoring this season. But though basketball at the collegiate level is new to the 6-foot-9 Chicago product, he has not let the fast success overwhelm him.
“I just came in not trying to be big-headed,” White said. “We all came here for a reason. We have one goal, and that’s to get to nationals and win it all. It’s good that some of the sophomores came back from last year because they can help the freshmen coming in. They already know what they went through last year. We’re trying to do everything as good as and better than last year.”
So far, the mindset has worked. With only one loss on the season coming against Oakland, the Jaguars have built a team chemistry that has produced a winning formula. And Tuesday’s win was no different. DACC (6-1 overall) trailed for only 46 seconds in the contest and led by as many as 20.
Even when the Statesmen (1-2) attempted to ruin the Jaguars’ home debut early in the contest, Carpenter never questioned his team’s ability to maintain control of the game.
“We knew that Lincoln Trail was going to play hard and they are well coached,” Carpenter said. “Coach (Mike) Ray does a great job and gets his kids to play hard. We told them to just keep playing. I didn’t want to burn a time out, didn’t want them to get their legs. That’s one of our strengths is our depth and playing a fast-paced style. We didn’t want to stop the clock. We wanted the clock to keep moving.”
Lincoln Trail was led by former Danville Vikings standout Dennis Hightower, who scored 11 points and had five assists. Hightower hit a three-pointer off of a turnover four minutes into the second half to pull to within 10 points, but the DACC defense toughened up and held the Statesmen to only three points in the following 6:36 during a 13-4 run that extended the Jaguars’ lead to 65-45.
DACC’s next home game is on Thursday against Wabash Valley when it attempts to win its fourth consecutive game. With the confidence of being ranked in the top five, and solid chemistry, the Jaguars have plans to keep their winning streak intact.
“As long as we keep our communication going and keep talking on defense and offense, I don’t think anyone can stop us,” White said. “As long as we work together and we’re talking to each other, we’re going to be hard to beat this year.”