By Brian Nielsen
At first that 31-point lead after three quarters seemed to be a cue for starters on Lake Land’s women’s basketball team to relax and become spectators.
But then despite two timeouts within 26 seconds and another two minutes, 39 seconds later, Dave Johnson’s patience had reached a limit.
“Fifteen points is kind of my mental barrier,” the Lakers coach said. “In this day and age with the 3-point shot, you never know what can happen. Plus, they were in the double bonus. You don’t want to do it, but you have to keep coaching.”
Johnson’s take-no-chances coaching meant sending starters back into the game with 2:41 remaining after Southeastern Illinois had slashed that 31-point margin to less than half at 15.
The this-isn’t -really-happening-is-it mode actually got down to 12 before Abby Weis hit two 3-pointers within a 35-second span and the nation’s eighth-ranked NJCAA Division II women’s basketball team again could coast to Saturday’s 82-67 Great Rivers Athletic Conference win over Southeastern at Lakers Fieldhouse.
“We just said we have to do what coach says and get the lead back,” said Arie Sims, who passed to Weis for the two disaster-preventing 3-pointers in the last 2:15.
So with 1:20 left and the scare averted, Sims and Lucy Smith could again be replaced, this time to a nice ovation for their Sophomore Night.
Freshman All-American candidate Carsyn Fearday added two free throws with 1:09 remaining and could also leave to cheers after her 21 points and 8-for-13 field goal shooting led the Lakers, now 25-3 overall and 14-2 for second place in the GRAC.
Weis, who was 5-for-9 from 3-point range and 6-for-11 from the field overall, added 17 points.
Sims had a game-high five assists with no turnovers plus eight points in her final regular season home game for Lake Land.
“I just do what I can for the team passing and making shots,” the Normal West High School product said.
Meanwhile, the 5-foot-4 Smith found a way to grab a team-high nine rebounds.
“I just get position and when the ball goes up go after it,” Smith said.
While starters had to come to the rescue at the finish, depth actually was a key for Lake Land against a Southeastern Illinois team (8-18, 4-10) with a roster of just seven players, including Alexis Radcliff who scored 24 points and Staisha Hamilton who had 23.
Lake Land used 14 players, 12 of whom scored points.
Southeastern was able to stay with the Lakers trailing just 20-18 after one quarter before Lake Land with more substitutions was able to overwhelm the visitors 29-8 in the second period, including 19 unanswered points for a 49-26 halftime lead.
“Transition,” Sims said. “A lot of transition baskets. They don’t have that many people so we had to get in transition.”
Fearday in particular drove for a couple of fastbreak baskets in the 19-0 run and had 17 of her 21 points by halftime.
“We wanted to take the ball out of (No.) 23’s (Hamilton’s) hands and it worked,” Johnson said of the second-quarter surge. “It got us going offensively, too.”
Lynn Riggleman hit a pair of 3-pointers in the last 1:12 of the third quarter giving Lake Land a seemingly insurmountable 70-39 command so the starters could take the rest of the game off.
“Yeah, we did think that,” Sims said with a smile.
But Johnson did not relax, calling timeouts with 7:09 and then 6:43 remaining to point out mistakes by his Lakers who were ahead 74-48.
“People probably think that’s a little much but they deserve coaching, too,” Johnson said.
The coach also alerted his starters that if the margin dwindled to 15 their services would be needed again.
“It’s nice to get back in the game, but you also want the others to play, too,” Smith said.
Once the deal was finally sealed, the sophomores could celebrate their successful home finale.
“It definitely goes quick,” Sims said of her two Lake Land seasons. “It’s like a second family. I feel I learned a lot.”
Wayne City’s Smith said: “I also feel like this is another family. I learned a lot of basketball and hope I can take it back home and be a role model.”
The Lakers still have another regular season game to play at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Rend Lake before the NJCAA Division II Region 24 tournament in March.
LAKE LAND: Sims 2 4-4 8, Smith 1 0-0 2, Fearday 8 5-5 21, Weis 6 0-0 17, Newson 4 1-3 9, Schultz 0 0-0 0, Barry 1 0-0 2, Gant 1 2-2 4, Barker 1 0-0 2, Riggleman 3 0-0, 9, Schoonover 2 0-0 4, Orris 0 0-0 0, Buescher 1 0-0 3, Breedlove 0 1-2 1. Totals 30 13-16 82.
3-pointers: Weis 5, Riggleman 3, Buescher 1. Rebounds: Smith 9. Assists: Sims 5. Steals: Gant 3.