By Mike Monahan
Updated 8:20 a.m., April 25
HICKORY, N.C. – Last year’s disappointing news of not having an NJCAA Division II National Tournament due to COVID-19 is gone for Lake Land women’s basketball as this year’s team, one that was ranked No. 3 in the final rankings and seeded No. 2 in the tourney, made 18-of-20 free throws to help them win their first-ever title, 53-49 over Johnson County Saturday at the Tarlton Complex on the campus of Catawba Valley Community College.
Lake Land’s defense again stood tall in holding the Cavaliers to 1-of-8 shooting from 3-point range. Johnson County had averaged seven 3s a game.
“From day one a goal of mine was to win a national championship,” said Lake Land coach Dave Johnson, who is currently 491-252 (.661) and just finished his 20th season. “When this group last year were freshmen, I thought we had a really good chance this year when they are sophomores, but they were ahead of scheduled winning 30 games (losing three) and a regional tournament. I really think not getting to play in nationals last year drove this group. It kept them focused.”
Harley Barry, tied with Kamaria Gant for the most points in the game for Lake Land with 14, was named the Most Valuable Player. Barry, a Shiloh grad, played for sports co-op Tri-County that includes Oakland, Kansas and Shiloh.
Lake Land made seven of eight free throws in the final 4 minutes, 24 seconds of the game.
Abby Weis’s free throw gave Lake Land a 49-46 lead in the final minutes.
“Abby drove the lane and drew a foul and hit one of two free throws, which was huge because it forced them into a situation where they almost had to make a 3-pointer,” said Johnson.
The Cavaliers won the national championship in 2015, beating Parkland 66-64. It was their fourth appearance having also won the title in 2000 and were the runner-ups in 2017.
“No. 1 we had to get back defensively,” said Johnson of keys before the game. “They play extremely fast. They shoot 3s really well in transition. We wanted them to play a half-court offense.”
The Lakers also forced the Cavaliers into 18 turnovers, way above their average of 11 per game, which was fourth in the nation.
“We do and don’t pressure,” said Johnson. “Our motto is to guard the last 22 feet really, really well. We guard as hard we can in the last 22 feet.”
Of the 25 Lake Land wins this season, all but the quarterfinal and championship were won by 10 points or more.
“We matched height-wise,” said Johnson. “They play extremely hard and go to the board hard. Give them a lot of credit. They definitely took us out of our offense. They did a good job on our dribble motion and screen game. We scrapped and clawed on the offensive end to score.”
Lake Land trailed Johnson County 42-37 with 9:07 left. The Lakers then reeled off seven unanswered points, starting with a 3-pointer by Gant, who scored 11 points in the final 10:50 and nine in the final 7:03.
Karrington Krabel tied the score at 42 and after nearly two minutes of neither team scoring Krabel drove to the basket and was fouled. She landed awkwardly and did not return. Gant shot the two free throws, giving the Lakers a 44-42 lead.
After Johnson County’s Jaylen Townsend tied the score at 44, Barry used her quickness to drive for a layup that put Lake Land ahead for good, 46-44, with 3:45 remaining.
Tresoir Newson’s left-handed layup padded the lead to 48-44.
“Those four baskets were really huge for us,” said Johnson of the baskets by Gant, Krabel and Tresoir Newson, who also had a steal near the top of the key before driving for a score.
The Cavaliers (22-2) then attempted a 3-pointer out of a set play from the corner and missed. Johnson County, averaging 47 rebounds per game, grabbed the errant shot but the putback also missed. After a scramble, Gant came up with the rebound and was fouled with nine seconds left. The sophomore and made both free throws to make it 51-46.
Kierra Pirm, who came off the bench to score a game-high 20 points, made Johnson County’s lone 3-pointer of the game with 2.2 seconds left.
Gant was fouled when she received the inbounds pass and made both free throws to assure Lake Land its first-ever national championship.
And the celebration began.
“Kamaria has been in pressure free-throw shooting before, including against USC Salkehatchie,” said Johnson. “They were all nothing but net. On defense, she guarded their top scorer in Presley Barton and held her scoreless.”
Gant, an 85.1% free-throw shooter, made all eight free-throw attempts Saturday night.
“We didn’t have a great shooting night tonight,” said Johnson. “But we were mentally tough at the line. They knew they needed points at the line. In the whole tournament it was our 3-pointers and free throws that really carried us.”
There were hugs all around, including to Krabel, who was in a wheelchair.
“I think the most impressive thing is that everyone played both ends of the court as hard as they could tonight,” said Johnson. “
Lake Land finishes 25-2, winning its final 16 games.
The Lakers got out to a great start, leading 10-0 in the first 4:22 while Johnson County missed its first six shots and committed two turnovers. Weis started the scoring with a 3-pointer and Gant followed with another. Shania Schoonover made a layup and Weis’s layup had the Lake Land fans in attendance in a frenzy.
“I think it (the start) was very important to us,” said Johnson. “It gave us confidence and we went back to that confidence early in the fourth when we were down five. I called a time-out (9:05 left in the game) and talked about playing one play at a time. We have a saying that the next basket wins. If you play that way, you don’t look at the picture of being down five. Try to get a stop and get a score.”
Johnson County made a free throw, but didn’t make its first field goal until Lajahda Boylan scored with 3:44 remaining in the opening quarter. Krabel made a 3-pointer as Lake Land went back up by 10 before the Cavaliers cut into the lead, scoring eight of the final 10 points to make it 15-11. Neither team led by more than seven the rest of the game.
Johnson County made it a two-point game after a basket by Townsend with 3:20 left in the half. The Lakers led 24-19 after a three-pointer by Barry, who had nine points in the first half, with a minute remaining. Johnson County went into the half with some momentum as Lisa Thomas made a layup with three seconds left, cutting Lake Land’s lead to three.
Tresoir Newson scored the first six points of the second half for the Lakers, including a pair of free throws for a 30-23 advantage. Newson finished with a team-high eight rebounds. Newson and Barry led in steals with three, while Gant had three assists to lead the team. Olivia Niemerg had two blocked shots.
Johnson County was 10-of-14 from the free-throw line and outrebounded Lake Land 41-29. They lead the nation in average rebound margin at 17.2.
|(4) Johnson County||11||10||17||11||49|
|(2) Lake Land||15||9||13||16||53|
|Field Goal %||36.5%||30.6%|
|3 Point %||12.5%||26.3%|
|Free Throw %||71.4%||90.0%|
|Points off Turnovers||4||23|
|2nd Chance Points||4||5|
|Points in the Paint||30||14|
|Time of Largest Lead||4th-09:08||1st-05:38|
Officials: Daniel Drake, Kyle Pickett, Chris Collins
Technical fouls: JCCC-1. LLC-None.
Points in the paint: JCCC-30, LLC-14. Points off turnovers: JCCC-4, LLC-23.
2nd chance points: JCCC-4, LLC-5. Fast break points: JCCC-8, LLC-4.
Bench Points: JCCC-35, LLC-9.