BY AARON PATTERSON
If there is one thing the Brown Mackie College Lions and coach Francis Flax could change about their experience in Danville at the 2013 NJCAA Division II National Tournament, it might be a stretch late in Friday night’s semifinal against the Moraine Valley Community College Cyclones.
The Lions’ 12-point second-half advantage quickly vanished with just over 10 minutes to go, sweeping away their chances for a bid for Flax’s third national title.
But Brown Mackie didn’t let one loss ruin an otherwise successful season, and finished the 2012-2013 campaign with a win and a third-place tournament finish, earning an 80-66 victory over the Owens Community College Express.
“One game short,” said Flax. “Not very many teams finish their season with a win, and we’re blessed to be able to do that. This is the first third I’ve ever got here; two championships, two fourths and a fifth. For us to come back and play after that devastating loss last night, to play with the energy and emotion we played with I think speaks volumes for the guys. I think that might tell you why we won 29 games.”
If the Lions (29-6) learned only one thing from watching this year’s tournament, and from their own experiences, it was that no lead is safe. So when they led 37-31 at halftime, a very distinct message was relayed before they took the court for the final 20 minutes of the season.
“It happened to us last night and we wanted to guard against that happening to us tonight,” Flax said of surrendering what appeared to be a healthy lead. “Once we got them down, we wanted to go from 10 points to 16 points to 20 points. That was our goal, and we got there and a little more.”
Less than six minutes into the second half, the Lions had increased their lead to 16 points, and with 9:58 to go, Brown Mackie had built a 20-point lead. But they wanted to make sure the Express (26-10) wouldn’t make a comeback. With 4:11 left on the clock, Rico Spikes (13 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) hit a three-pointer to give the Lions their largest lead of the contest at 25.
Travon Mitchell finished with a team-high 15 points for Brown Mackie, while Thaddeus Rideau scored 14, and Jamelle Hays had 13 and pulled down 11 rebounds.
Hays scored 10 of his points in the second half during the Lions’ late run.
Flax made it a point to limit the opportunities of Owens guard Joe Retic (two points, seven rebounds) and James Kelly (13 points, nine rebounds).
“I was happy with the way that we played interior defense,” said Flax. “Kelly didn’t have his way with anything tonight against us. He had to work for anything that he got. He’s obviously a man out there amongst boys.”
Kelly, a 6-8, 238 pound forward, made a verbal commitment on Saturday to play at University of Miami (Fla.).
Tony Boykins led the Express with 18 points and had four assists, but coach Dave Clarke still never found the consistency and leadership from his sophomores that he felt was necessary to be successful at the national tournament
“I think we only had about four guys that showed up to play,” said Clarke. “These are tough games. I’ve got to do a better job of motivated the guys, but for some of our sophomores, it was a bad loss yesterday. To win a tournament like this, and Rend Lake is a perfect example, they’ve got some sophomores that played really well. I thought my freshmen played OK, but my sophomores in this game — I think we just weren’t 100 percent prepared. It’s one of those character games, and I think it was tough for our guys.”
It was only the third time this season Owens suffered back-to-back losses while Brown Mackie finished the season winning 20 of its final 23 games.
“It always feels good to go out on top in your last game,” said Hays. “We definitely wanted to play in that championship, but it’s the last game, and I’m glad we got a win.
“These guys are just my brothers,” he added. “I think we will all remember this experience for the rest of our lives. From pushing tires to running hills to waking up at 6 in the morning, it’s just something we will never forget.
“I think we will cherish this moment, even though we didn’t win and get first place. We are all still brothers and built relationships that will last for the rest of our lives.”