Lake Land coach Dave Johnson was not overly concerned about his team’s first-half deficit.
The Lakers may have trailed by 11 entering the second half of the NJCAA Region 24 basketball championship in Peoria. But Johnson believed his team could rally for a couple of reasons. Illinois Central had made an unusually high percentage of its field goals (60 percent) while his own team had shot way below its season average, converting just 30 percent. Plus, Johnson suspected, ICC’s players might be fatigued from having played through two overtimes the day before.
At halftime, Johnson reminded his players to patiently stick to the plan on moving the ball inside against an ICC defense that had worked hard to pack the paint and clog the lanes, and to also keep playing uptempo.
“I told them: It’s like Novocain,” Johnson said. “It takes time to take effect.”
Lake Land eventually went on three extended scoring runs – at the end of the third quarter, the middle of the fourth quarter and the final minutes of overtime – to enable the No. 6 Lakers to upend the No. 9 Cougars, 80-75, in the NJCAA Region 24 women’s basketball championship in East Peoria on Sunday afternoon.
Lake Land had to defeat No. 5 Lincoln Land the day before when Fearday made a 3-pointer to halt a last-minute charge for the 63-60 win. The Lakers (29-3) advance to the NJCAA Division II national tournament held in Port Huron, Michigan, beginning March 17.
This is the third national basketball tournament berth for Lake Land, which advanced in both 2001 and 2012.
Lake Land started driving lanes that were more open in the second half. And the Lakers finally started scoring in bunches at the end of the third quarter, going on a 12-2 run in the final minutes to take its first lead of the game, 50-49, with 37 seconds left. Fearday scored six points on two baskets and two free throws and Tresoir Newson added two more field goals to bolster the run.
“That gave us some confidence,” Johnson said. “And that took some confidence away from ICC.”
The Cougars hit only three of 19 field-goal attempts in the quarter.
With the score tied at 55 in the fourth quarter, Lake Land went on a 13-5 run capped off by a fast-break layup by Sims to take a 68-60 lead with 3:31 left in the game. Illinois Central, though, responded with its own 10-2 surge to tie the score at 70 with 15.1 seconds remaining. Fearday’s last-second shot bounced off the rim.
In the opening minute of overtime, Lake Land fell behind for the first time since the third quarter after an ICC 3-pointer made it 73-72. The Lakers scored eight of the final 10 points on six free throws by Barry and Fearday along with a 10-foot jumper by Baylee Breedlove and a lay-in by Arie Simms to secure the win.
Johnson credits the free throws for the victory. In addition to the six straight made in the overtime, Lake Land made 22 of 23 overall.
“I think that’s what won the game,” Johnson said. “In the first half, that was about the only way we were scoring. If you knew how much I’m on them all the time about shooting free throws in practice.”
Lake Land struggled through much of the first half, making only 30 percent of its shots (9-30) compared to 60 percent for Illinois Central (11-19). The Cougars also made four of six 3-pointers and grabbed numerous offensive rebounds, 18 total for the half.
“They (ICC) were making some 17- to 19-footers in the first half that we hadn’t seen them make before,” Johnson said. “We just had to stay the course and believe those numbers would change. It’s hard to keep that kind of shooting stat through a game.”
Lake Land had defeated Illinois Central 77-56 earlier this season. The Cougars, the two-time defending Region 24 champs, finish the season at 25-7.
The Lakers put together an 11-2 run midway through the second quarter, driving aggressively to the basket in order score and cut their deficit to 33-30. Breedlove layed in two baskets, Sims added one and Fearday hit a 3-pointer during the run. Breedlove also hit two of her six free throws in the first half.
Illinois Central responded by scoring eight points in about a minute on a 3-pointer, two baskets and a free throw as time expired to retain a 41-30 lead at halftime.