By Mike Monahan

It was a battle of two nationally ranked teams.

Wabash Valley, at 7-1, was ranked No. 14 nationally in Division I by NJCAA.

Lake Land, the defending Division II national champs, was ranked No. 4 at 5-1.

As expected, the game was close. An 11-1 run down the stretch proved the difference, giving the Warriors a 72-62 victory at the Laker Fieldhouse.

Lake Land trailed by as much as 16 with just under five minutes left but moved within nine points, but that was as close as they would get.

Earlier in the game, the Lakers played terrific defense, holding Wabash Valley, a team that averaged 85.8 points per game, without a field goal for 10 minutes, 10 seconds. During that time Lake Land outscored the Warriors 18-4. The Lakers, which had trailed by 11, took a 25-21 lead, the Lakers’ largest of the game.

“We had a great stretch at the end of the first quarter through most of the second quarter defensively,” said Lake Land coach Dave Johnson. “We did a good job of cutting off driving lanes. We made it difficult for them to get to the basket. Their offense is set to get to the basket. I was really pleased with that.”

Laker freshman Joslynn Spears shoots during the Lakers’ loss to Wabash Valley on Wednesday at Laker Field House. (Photo/Dominic Baima)

Lexi Niebrugge, one of 10 freshmen on the team, had seven points during the run and Lake Land was 9-of-13 (.692) from the free-throw line during that time. Wabash Valley missed 16 straight shots during the stretch until. A pair of free throws by Shaulana Wagner put Wabash Valley, a team that entered 149th in the nation in free-throw shooting at 54 percent, ahead 26-25 at the half.

“We couldn’t throw a shot in the ocean,” said Wabash Valley coach Luke Scheidecker. “I felt like we were stuck at 21. That is hard to go 10 minutes against a good team and not score. That was big that we responded in the last couple of minutes.”

Wabash Valley extended its winning streak to seven games and are now 2-0 in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference. It was the GRAC opener for Lake Land, which had a four-game winning streak snapped.

“They made adjustments at halftime,” said Johnson. “We were there in the third quarter. It was just that we gave up a run. We didn’t talk in transition one time and we gave up a wide open basket and the game went to nine. Then we had a turnover and gave up a layup which increased it. You have to give them credit for playing the way they wanted to play. But we also have to do a better job of taking care of the ball. They take ball turnovers and turn them into baskets quick just with their athleticism, and they are really good in the open court.”

Lake Land had 12 turnovers.

“I thought we did a good job of getting stops and converting with outlets and transition buckets,” said Scheidecker of the run. ” They are really good in the half court defense. When they get their feet set they are hard to score against. So we were trying to get out there just a little bit more and get good looks.”

Wabash led 44-40 when Ambria Gentle came in off the bench and scored four of the points during the run and another player off the bench, Mariah Jones canned a three-point for the 14-point lead.

Tayler Barry, Olivia Niemerg, Ali Watson, Nierbrugge and Joslyn Spears all finished in double-digits with 14, 13, 12, 12 and 10 points respectively.

Lake Land entered the game averaging just under 11 3-pointers per game, which ranked third in the nation). The Lakers made a paltry four on 24 attempts.

“We need to shoot the 3s better,” said Johnson. “We are learning. They switch everything. We talked about what would be open. Right now we are still playing a little bit of what I call kind of lackadaisical offensive cuts. We are not as sharp on our cuts and some of our screens as you need to be at this level.”

Wabash Valley outrebounded Lake land 52-40 and had just seven turnovers. The Warriors were led in scoring by Wagner, Kiarah Carney and Radcliff with 20, 18 and 10 points, respectively. Wabash Valley entered the game shooting just 54 percent from the free throw line and finished 13-of-25, including 10-of-16 in the second half.

“The second half wasn’t bad rebounding, but we didn’t rebound in transition the way we needed to,” said Johnson. “That hurt us a couple of times. We will learn a lot from tonight.”

Lake Land plays host to Johnson County, the No. 2 team in NJCAA Division II, at John Wood Community College tonight at 5:30 p.m.

Wabash Valley College215291772
Lake Land College1114172862

LAKE LAND: Niemerg 4 5-6 13, Sirjord 0 1-2 1, Barry 3 8-12 14, Niebrugge 3 5-7 12, Still 0 0-0 0, Watson 5 0-0 12, Spears 4 1-2 10, Russo 0 0-0 0, Phillips 0 0-0 0, Barbex 0 0-0 0, Totals 19 20-29 62

3-point goals: Lake Land 4-24 (Niebrugge 1, Watson 2, Spears 1). Rebounds: Lake Land 40 (Niebrugge 7). Turnovers: Lake Land 12. Shooting percentage: Lake Land 19-61 (.311).