BY CHAD DARE
A year ago, Danville Area Community College sophomores Evan Blackmon and Derek Shouse watched the Lincoln Land Loggers end the National Championship chase for the Lincoln College Lynx.
On Friday afternoon, neither Blackmon nor Shouse wanted see a repeat of that performance, so the Jaguar leaders stepped up when it counted the most.
Blackmon and Shouse combined for 39 points and they led DACC’s second-half defensive surge as the Jaguars pulled away late for a 70-56 victory over the Loggers in the NJCAA Division II Region 24 Tournament at John Wood Community College in Quincy.
“Being sophomores, we had to step it up,” said Blackmon, who had 18 points, five rebounds and a game-high four steals. “We had some new guys that hadn’t been here before, so Derek and I had to provide the leadership for our team.
“It’s tournament time, every game is serious and you have to play every game like it’s your last.”
Shouse, who scored a game-high 21 points by making 5-of-10 from 3-point range, admitted the first step toward the National Tournament is the hardest. The Jaguars, rated No. 2 in the latest NJCAA Division II Poll, won their 17th consecutive game and they are just two wins away from their second consecutive National Tournament appearance.
“We had some jitters and we had some guys that were nervous,” he said. “That’s why it was important for Evan and I to use our experience to get us going, and then we were able to get these other guys into the rhythm.”
DACC coach Mike Carpenter definitely felt the experience that Blackmon, Shouse and a few other Jaguars had from beating the Loggers in last year’s Region Championship played a key role on Friday.
“That’s what you want from your older, more experienced guys,” Carpenter said. “They didn’t get rattled. They didn’t get nervous. I think playing them last year in this situation really helped the guys like Evan, Derek, Bobby Blackwell, Cody Owen and Andrew Mitchell.
“They had been in this situation before against Lincoln Land and they knew what to do. That’s why you saw us use Bobby, Cody and Andrew a little more today and they responded.”
While the trio of Blackwell, Owen and Mitchell combined for just five points, Carpenter said their contributions came in other aspects of the game that don’t show up in the statistics.
But providing an offensive scoring punch off the bench on Friday was Kody Tucker. The 6-foot-5 sophomore from Indianapolis, who is averaging just 6.2 points per game, provided the Jaguars with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, including making 3-of-4 from behind the arc.
“Kody gave us a huge spark off the bench,” Carpenter said. “He is 22 years old and has been through a lot. He went to a high school with 5,000 kids and he played on a big stage in high school, so he doesn’t get rattled on the big stages like today.”
But, it wasn’t the offense that needed a spark at halftime for the Jaguars.
Lincoln Land (15-16) was giving DACC all it wanted because of the Loggers offensive execution and their 52 percent shooting from the field, including making 6-of-10 behind the 3-point arc.
“In the first half, they were hitting every shot they took and they really executed their offense,” Carpenter said. “When they are clicking like that on offense, they are a tough to beat.
“Even though we were shooting 56 percent in the first half, we didn’t feel comfortable with a 1-point (38-37) halftime lead. You don’t want a team like that staying close with you, because they can beat you.”
In the Friday’s final 20 minutes, DACC turned up its defensive pressure. Lincoln Land made just 29 percent of their shots (7-of-24) and they the Loggers were 0-for-9 behind the arc.
“We were lackadaisical on defense in the first half,” Blackmon said. “We were sagging off our men and giving them pretty easy looks at the basket.
“Coach said that if we wanted to make things easier for our defense, we needed to get up into them. That’s what we did and we started slowing them down.”
Additionally, the Jaguars also did a better job on the glass in the second half.
Lincoln Land outrebounded DACC 18-10 in the first half, but the Jaguars had an 18-14 advantage in the second half as five players had four or more rebounds for DACC.
“If we don’t defend and we don’t rebound – we are not going to win,” Carpenter said. “I told them that at halftime and our guys took it as a challenge.
“We showed that we’re a pretty good team when we defend and rebound in that second half.”
The Jaguars outscored the Loggers 32-19 in the second half, including a 27-12 advantage in the game final 13 minutes, 30 seconds.
“They came out real strong and we came out slow,” Shouse said. “We had to adjust in the second half and that’s something we’ve done well all year, we came out playing good defense and we locked them down.
“Now, we will need to play a full 40 minutes of that kind of defense in the next round.”
DACC (28-3) advances to the Region 24 semifinals where the Jaguars will play the host John Wood Blazers in a 3 p.m. game this afternoon. John Wood (21-9) advanced to the semifinals with a 55-41 win over Parkland College.
The Jaguars have won both meetings against the Blazers this season, including a 58-53 win last Saturday in a game that was also played in Quincy.
In Friday’s other quarterfinal contest, Lincoln College defeated Illinois Central College 70-65. The Lynx (18-13) will play the region’s top-seeded team, the Rend Lake Warriors (24-3), in the first semifinal at 1 p.m. today.