BY AARON PATTERSON
There was only one word Moraine Valley Community College coach Dedrick Shannon could find to describe his Cyclones basketball team: resilient.
It might be fitting the team from Palos Hills, Ill. wears camouflage uniforms because Shannon and his squad take pride in the way they battle game after game. They have been in plenty of battles throughout the season, and Thursday’s NJCAA Division II national tournament quarterfinal was no different.
Entering the tournament, the Cyclones had only lost five battles, and it had begun to look as though the Monroe Community College Tribunes would hand them their sixth.
But Moraine Valley lived up to its uniform representation, and fought its way back from a 12-point deficit to pull out an impressive 78-74 win over the Tribunes to advance to tonight’s 8 p.m. championship semifinal game against Brown Mackie College.
“Our guys are just resilient and they get after it,” Shannon said. “They’re not going to back down and we’re not going to lay down and allow just anybody to win. I think people kind of look at our size and our stature and they kind of look over us a little bit and don’t think we have that kind of scoring punch. They did a great job.”
After taking a 13-12 lead with 12 minutes, 17 seconds to go in the first half, the Tribunes led and controlled nearly all aspects of the game until late in the second.
The Cyclones tied the game at 48-48 with 13:01 to go, but the Tribunes responded by once again taking control. Monroe Community College built a 12-point advantage with 4:53 remaining in the contest, and seemingly had the win in hand. Moraine Valley had other plans.
A 13-4 run by the Cyclones pulled them to within 69-67 at the two-minute mark, and then a few key defensive stops helped push them over the edge.
The Tribunes had a one-on-one layup opportunity with 53 seconds to go, but Moraine Valley’s Karrington Ward had one of his eight blocks to prevent Monroe from taking a five-point lead.
“We just take pride in our defense,” Ward said. “I took it personal that we were down. Coach said we’ve got to get some stops, so I just kept playing until the end and made some great stops. As a team, we made great defensive stops.”
Immediately following the block, Ward scored on a layup to pull the Cyclones to within 74-73 with 46 seconds left, and then took their first lead since early in the first half on a basket by Gerald Dorsey (22 points). Ward then scored his final points of the contest on a pair of free throws to seal the win.
“When coach called that time out, I said we’ve got to fight until the end,” Ward said. “We’ve got to fight to the end. We came out, made some defensive stops, and got the offense going.
“We felt they were controlling the game, but we just had to bring out our heart, and the dog fight in us. We got it done.”
Ward finished with 22 points, eight blocks, and 12 rebounds.
Gary Dallas led Monroe with 5 points and had nine boards. The No. 2-seeded Tribunes became the third top-three seed to drop in the tournament.
“It gives us a lot of momentum,” Ward said of the win. “We took a lot of strides out there tonight. We just got it going, and hopefully it carries over until tomorrow.”