BY CHAD DARE
Brown Mackie’s Wendell Pierre was unselfish almost to a fault in the opening game of the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.
Pierre had a game-high eight assists in the Lions 95-78 win over Essex County (N.J.) on Tuesday, but the sophomore from Port Arthur, Texas, had seven turnovers and just five points.
“I wasn’t aggressive enough,” Pierre said. “That’s what coach told me and it led to my turnovers.”
There was no problem with Pierre’s aggressiveness on Thursday night.
He had 18 points, five assists and three steals to help the Lions reach the Final Four with a 77-67 victory over the Penn Valley Scouts at the Mary Miller Complex on the campus of Danville Area Community College.
“He’s always been a problem for us to guard,” Penn Valley coach Marcus Harvey said. “The one thing he does – is that he is so strong, he just penetrates. He gets to the basket and we couldn’t get him out of the lane.
“He had 18 points and the majority of those points were layups.”
And while Pierre was pleased with his points and his assists, he was happier about his turnovers. The 6-foot-2 guard had just three against the pressure defense of the Scouts.
“Rico (Spikes) and I said together, we weren’t going to turn the ball over as many times as we did last game,” said Pierre as those two went from 13 turnovers in the contest against Essex to six against Penn Valley. “Essex earlier in this tournament helped us, because they put a lot of pressure on us, they had me turning the ball over a lot. We were actually prepared for the pressure this time.”
Turnovers were still a problem for Brown Mackie (28-5) as the Lions committed 19, but they also forced Penn Valley into 18 offensive miscues.
“We had to take care of the ball, force more turnovers than last game and score off those turnovers,” Pierre said. “Those were the keys tonight.”
And while the Scouts (23-12) were able to force more turnovers, it was the Lions holding a 16-11 advantage in points off of turnovers.
“You would have thought if you watched the game, we had the most turnovers, but they had more,” Harvey said. “They just did a better job of capitalizing on our turnovers. We didn’t capitalize on their turnovers.
“We caused a lot of turnovers, but we didn’t get anything out of them. They got easy baskets out of our turnovers.”
According to Harvey, this quarterfinal contest went pretty much like the two regular-season matchups between Penn Valley and Brown Mackie.
“They knew what we were going to do and we knew what they were going to do,” Harvey said. “They came out in the second half and just kind of took over the game.”
This is the third time in four postseason games that Brown Mackie, who beat Penn Valley 95-71 on Jan. 16 and 105-95 on Feb. 2, had to beat a team for a third time.
“That was a grinder, tough game,” Brown Mackie coach Francis Flax said. “They had us pegged pretty well.
“It’s a cliché, I know it is, that it’s tough to beat a team three times.”
Pierre admitted that the Scouts gave the Lions all they could handle.
“Actually, this was way more difficult than the first two times,” he said. “They came ready to play and they had a better game plan than the first two times.
“They are a scrappy team. They killed us on the offensive rebounds and that’s how they kept themselves in the game.”
Penn Valley had 20 offensive rebounds, but they accounted for just 15 second-chance points for the Scouts, who got a double-double from Erin Jones with 17 points and a game-high 11 rebounds and another double-double from Derrick Williams with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
According to Harvey, the problem was that his main outside scoring threats, Brandon Shively and Kareem Martin, had just 11 points on 2-of-12 shooting.
“We don’t have too many people that can score the ball from the outside,” Harvey said. “Those guys didn’t really help us out too much and John Brown (Penn Valley’s point guard) had six turnovers. That was cause by their pressure.”
The Lions will be making their fifth appearance in the Final Four tonight when Brown Mackie plays the Moraine Valley Cyclones in an 8 p.m. semifinal.
“I was crushed in 2010 that we didn’t make the Final Four,” said Flax, noting the Lions had a player disobey team rules. “I thought we could have won it in 2010, but we ended up getting fifth.
“I still don’t think we’re capable of winning the championship this year, but we’ve got 40 minutes to see if we can get to the game.”