BY AARON PATTERSON email@example.com
---- — DANVILLE — If first year Danville Area Community College men’s basketball coach DaJuan Gouard has learned anything about his team after nine games, it’s that the Jaguars won’t give up. Regardless of the circumstances, Gouard sees his squad as relentless and a team that won’t go down without a fight.
Entering Monday’s home game against Lincoln Trail, DACC had lost three games by seven points or less. The Jaguars suffered their fourth such loss of the season on Monday, this time 76-72 after trailing by as many as 11 in the second half.
While there could be encouragement in coming back from such a large deficit, the close losses could be described more as frustrating because of how close the Jaguars believe they are from turning those losses into wins.
“We’re at a stage where we’re just a couple plays away from winning games, a couple minutes away,” said DACC sophomore D’Lando Carter, a former Danville High Viking. “We have droughts where we are getting stops, but we’re not scoring and executing on the offensive end. Or, just getting stops and not making shots and letting the other team score buckets.
“We just have little spurts, just little bitty spurts that we need to correct so that we can play a whole 40 minutes and have a good game. We’re just two minutes, three minutes, four or five minutes off of winning.”
The Jaguars (3-6 overall) trailed by only four at halftime, but quickly watched the Statesmen build their advantage to 10 less than five minutes into the second half.
Lincoln Trail’s Jesse Tesmer and Nick Painter combined to score 10 of the Statesmen’s 14 points during the stretch. Within two minutes, DACC had pulled to within 48-42 with the help of a three-pointer by Carter.
And just when Lincoln Trail extended its lead again to 11 points, DACC fought back and trailed only 62-58 with just over two minutes to play. That’s as close as the Jaguars would get, though, and they suffered their sixth loss of the season.
“That’s been our situation all season,” Gouard said. “We just can’t seem to get over that hump. I think it’s having a lot of young guys. It’s not an excuse, but they don’t understand those situations when it’s time to get stops, when it’s time to take care of the basketball, when it’s time to get those easy layups.
“It’s going to take us having a few games like this, hopefully not many more, for them to realize what they need to be doing in certain situations. I think we’re getting there.”
DACC freshman Joseph English scored a team-high 20 points, while Carter scored 14 and had two steals and five rebounds. Martin Campbell also scored 11 for the Jaguars.
Former Danville High guard Dennis Hightower scored 15 points for the Statesmen and grabbed six rebounds. A friendly battle between Hightower and Carter, perhaps built up more by those outside of the respective programs than the players themselves, left the two friends wanting to do all they could to will their team to a win in front of the hometown crowd.
Early in the contest, Hightower went up for a layup only to have it swatted away by his friend and former high school teammate. The next time, however, Hightower got his shot to fall.
“He’s really athletic and I knew that going up over him was going to be a challenge,” Hightower said. “I was either going to get it in, or he was going to block it. The first time, he blocked it. If at first I don’t succeed, I try again. The second time, I finished it.”
Carter was happy to at least get a block on Hightower, but it meant nothing without the win. A win over Lincoln Trail would have been DACC’s third in a row, and a hopeful start to a long winning streak. Instead, the Jaguars find themselves starting fresh again with a break until Saturday when they face Moraine Valley Community College.
With the same fighter’s mentality, Gouard is confident his team will get back on track and find success this season.
“We’re going to fight till the end,” Gouard said. “We have moments where we kind of go blank. I think every coach says this, that’s what happens when you are dealing with a lot of freshmen. But, we fight. We’re going to fight until the end. Every game that we’ve played, we have fought until the end. I can always give those guys a lot of credit about fighting. That’s one thing, we don’t lay down for anybody.”