By Mike Monahan
It was deja vu for Lake Land women’s basketball Thursday afternoon.
The Lakers beat No. 3 Illinois Central College for the second time this season thanks to a great start, 70-60.
Lake Land had handed Illinois Central (15-2) its only other loss this season on Feb. 18 at East Peoria, 70-55.
On Thursday night, Lake Land, the No. 8 team in the NJCAA Division II rankings, improved to 17-2 overall and extended its winning streak to eight games. The Lakers also snapped the Cougars’ nine-game win streak.
It was a classic battle of a terrific defense vs. a terrific offense. Lake Land’s entered the game ranked No. 14 nationally in points allowed per game at 54.4. The Cougars were the 11th best offensive squad, scoring 80.1 points per game.
That prolific offense did not make a field goal attempt for the first 2 minutes, 35 seconds of the game. The Lakers’ defense forced ICC into four turnovers during that time and didn’t allow a field goal in the first 6:45 of the Region 24 contest.
Offensively, Lake Land scored the first 15 points and led by as much as 22 at one point before the Cougars close within eight.
“Getting out to a 15-0 lead was huge because we were able to hold that most of the game,” said Lake Land coach Dave Johnson. “We didn’t play the last five minutes the way I wanted to, but I could tell we were really fatigued today. We will take a day off Friday and, hopefully, that will rejuvenate us for this weekend.”
Lake Land had another big run towards the end of the first half, scoring 14 unanswered points in a span of 4:05, taking the largest lead of the game on a 3-pointer by Abby Weis for a 39-17 advantage.
ICC, which trailed by eight points on three different occasions in the second quarter, trailed 59-39 after Lake Land’s Kamaria Gant nailed one of her five 3-pointers with 7:45 left in the game. The Cougars then made a run, outscoring the Lakers 14-3 over the next 5:15. Cierra McNamee started the scoring spree with a basket followed by a pair of free throws by Kristyn Mitchell and another by Mitchell. A three-point play by Olivia Niemerg pushed the lead back to 62-45.
“I thought Olivia Niemerg’s drive and finish on the left-hand side of the rim when we really needed it was big,” Johnson said. “I want her to be a little more aggressive, but that was a huge play when we had struggled to score in those few minutes (2:49).”
ICC answered with an 8-0 run that included four points by Kayla Jordan. Her layup made it 62-53. Lake Land made sure they didn’t get closer than that as Gant hit a 3-pointer and Schoonover scored a basket to make it 67-53 with 43 seconds left.
“I think we understood the rankings,” said Lake Land sophomore guard Mikayla Sirjord. “We have more confidence in our team than some of the other people do in us and I think that is all that matters. We recognize how we see ourselves and the people on our team and our coaches are the only people that really matters. The rankings, yes, they are a good confidence booster, but we all think we are better than what they reflect.”
The Lakers at one time were 14-of-27 (.519) from the field during a span of 17 minutes of the first half, while the Cougars made just 8-of-26 (.308) in a 17:25 span.
“We have a really solid defense,” said Johnson whose team forced ICC into 23 turnovers. “Our kids really understand our plan defensively well too. We have a lot of undersized kids guarding bigger kids, but they work in positioning and our perimeter players know how to help well and take away passing angles well. It is the whole team out there working.”
Some of the reason was the play of point guard Harley Barry, a Shiloh graduate who played for Tri-County.
“Harley Barry is just a really, really good player all around,” said Johnson. “She is a great defender, great rebounder for her size, pushes the ball, handles the ball, and finishes really well. I can’t say enough about her. She is an outstanding point guard this year.”
Lake Land, which entered the game 10th nationally in free throws made per game at 13.9, converted 12 of 15. The Lakers also entered as the ninth best team in free throw percentage at 70.4.
Tresoir Newson had numerous steals as she anticipated passes.
“Everytime the people are bigger than her that she guards so she just positions really well and reads plays really well,”said Johnson. “She actually watches a lot of film and picks up tendencies really, really well.”
Gant led all players with 19 points, including five three-pointers and Shaina Schoonover finished with 10 points.
“Kamaria has been super steady all year,” said Johnson. “I can’t say enough about her. She is a young lady that was our sixth or seventh player off the bench last year, but she played a lot. She didn’t start and came in this year really focused. She really worked on her game this summer and you can see it. She has been a double figure scorer for us consistently.”
The Lake Land bench scored 24 points.
“Karrington Krabel was outstanding, Mikayla Sirjord in the first half was big, Elisabeth Buescher gave us some big minutes,” said Johnson “Avery Still was really good tonight. That was a big game and Avery really performed well.”
Lake Land is 16th in the nation in 3-point field goals made at 7.4 per game and they were 10-of-25 Thursday, including two by Sirjord.
“It always feels good as a shooter to start off strong just knowing it is a good shooting day and a great way to start and come into the game,” said Sirjord.
Lake Land will play host to Lincoln Land Sunday at 3 p.m. in another region 24 games.
Johnson likes his team and the spirit they have.
They have got a great spirit about them,”said Johnson. “They love challenges and so I try and invent challenges for them every game. I can’t say enough about how they approach the game and worked. We were a little tired today. We played two straight weeks of Sunday, Monday and Thursday. This is our sixth game in 15 days. You saw it a little bit in transition today, but they gutted it out. I give them all of the credit. I just kind of ride along on the sidelines.”
LAKE LAND: Barry 1-2-4-4, Gant 6-2-2-19, Newson 3-1-3-7, Weiss 2-0-0-6, Schoonover 4-2-2-10, Krabel 2-2-3-7, Niemerg 2-3-3-7, Buescher 0-0-0-0, Still 2-0-0-4, Sirjord 2-0-0-6, Totals 24-12-15-70
ILLINOIS CENTRAL: Gordon 7-0-0-14, McNamee 3-1-2-7, Williams 0-0-0-0, Edwards4-0-0-8, Stafford 4-0-0-9, Jones 4-0-0-9, Buchanan 0-0-0-0, Metts 2-0-0-4, Gibbs 1-1-2-3, Mitchell 0-4-6-4, Totals 26-6-10-60
3-point goals: Illinois Central 2-5 (Jones 1-1, Stafford 1-1, Gordon 0-2, Gibbs 0-1), Lake Land 10-25 (Gant 5-9, Weis 2-8, Sirjord 2-3, Krabel 1-3, Barry 0-1, Still 0-1). Rebounds: Illinois Central 40 (McNamee 9), Lake Land 34 (Schoonover 5). Shooting percentages: Illinois Central .426. Lake Land .400. Turnovers: Illinois Central 23, Lake Land 20