By Mike Monahan

Lake Land women’s basketball coach Dave Johnson did something he has only done once all season –  play a 2-3 zone.

It worked.

The Lakers forced John A. Logan into 21 turnovers. 

“I think the best thing tonight is we really kind of focused in defensively and got stops,” said Johnson of his team, which improved to 8-4 overall and 1-1 in the GRAC. “We got some easy opportunities in transition and we got into transition better tonight. I thought our half-court is where we did a much better job of staying in space and did a much better job of moving the ball and finding the right spot.”

Lake Land scored a season-high in the 84-61 win over the Vols, six better than a previous best against Olney last month.

Lake Land, the No. 7 team in NJCAA Division II, trailed by no more than five in an opening quarter that saw three lead changes. 

The Lakers led 22-19 with 8:49 left in the half when they went on a 10-0 run starting with a 3-pointer by Lexi Niebrugge and a put back by the lone sophomore Mikayla Sirjord. Joslynn Spears hit a pair of free throws followed by a 3-pointer for a 32-19 lead before the scoring spree with a basket by Jeniah Thompson, who finished with a double-double (came in to the game averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds per game) scoring 34 points, including 13 in the final quarter and pulling down 12 boards. Another 3-pointer by Spears, a Indianapolis Pike graduate, made it 35-21. The Vols didn’t get closer than 12 the rest of the game. 

“She (Spears) was huge in the first half,” Johnson said. “She can score in so many ways. She can shoot the 3’s and can finish off the dribble. She can find people when she stops. It was a really solid game for her tonight. Marissa Ruzzo was also big for us off the bench.”

Spears has started five games and entered with an average of 13 points per game. 

“I feel like it doesn’t affect my game,” said Spears of coming in off the bench.”I just know when I go out on the court I just have to play my game and give it my all. I was super confident in my shots after the first 3–pointer and I was like ‘Okay, if I am open I am just going to shoot another one.”

Lake Land led 44-28 at the half. 

“In the second quarter everyone was hyped,” said Spears. “I feel like we need to have positive energy going into the second half and I feel like that is what we did. We played as a team. So, it was very exciting.”

Lake Land had a 21-9 run during an eight minute stretch from the 5:40 mark in the third to the 5:40 mark in the final quarter to lead 56-32. 

The Lakers had just six turnovers after three quarters before finishing with 12. 

“That (turnovers) has been an emphasis of ours because every time you turn the ball over you don’t get a shot,” said Johnson. “Live ball turnovers are really difficult to defend. A steal, a bad pass,  those are really easy chances for buckets and hard to defend.”. 

Lake Land finished with five players in double-figures – Olivia Niemerg had a season-high 19 points, Tayler Barry had 16, Spears 14, Niebrugge 11 and Sirjord 10.

As for Thompson’s play, Johnson said: “There is a good reason why  Southern Illinois recruited her out of high school. She is a tremendous scorer. We have not played a lot of zone this year. We needed to be more aware of where she was. We will get there. Don’t take anything away from her. She is extremely talented. “

Lake Land also helped itself by going 14-of-16 (.875) from the free throw line, including 9-of-10 by Barry and all four free throws by Spears. 

“As soon as I came to this college, I actually got better with my free throws because we practiced that a lot,” said Spears.

Lake Land travels to Grand Rapids for a game Friday and plays at Muskegon Community College, the No. 20 team in the state. Both teams were in the national tournament last season. The team will stay in Grand Rapids Friday before heading the 35 minutes to Muskegon Saturday morning.

John A. Logan 1711152861
Lake Land2024281284

LAKE LAND: Niemerg 8 0-0 19, Sirjord 4 1-2 10, Barry 3 9-10 16, Niebrugge 4 0-0 11, Still 1 0-0 2, Spears 4 4-4 14, Barber 1 0-0 2, Watson 0 0-0 0, Russo 4 0-0 8, Phillips 1 0-0 2, Totals 30 14-16 84

3-point goals: Lake Land 10-25 (Niemerg 3, Niebrugge 3, Spears 2, Barry 1, Sirjord 1); John A. Logan 5-22 (Jenia Thompson 3, Shakyra Wright 2). Rebounds: Lake Land 34 (Still 6), John A Logan 38 (Thompson 11). Turnovers: Lake Land 12, John A.Logan 21. Shooting percentages: Lake Land 30-62 .484, John A. Logan 24-51 .4171