By Mike Monahan
The matchup of two top-five teams in NJCAA Divison II women’s basketball lived up to its rankings – at least, through three quarters.
Neither team led by more than six points and No. 5 Lake Land held a 37-35 advantage heading into the final quarter of a defensive battle.
But No. 3 Illinois Central then blew the game up by outscoring Lake Land 15-2 in the first 5:21 of the final quarter en route to a 62-47 victory in a Region 24 contest.
ICC, coached by former Parkland and Unity High School coach Karrie Redeker, snapped a four-game losing streak against the Lakers, improved to 13-6 and padded its win streak to eight straight games.
Lake Land had its own eight-game winning streak snapped and scored its fewest points in a game this season. The Lakers (14-5) had last lost Dec. 8 in a 97-69 loss to Rend Lake.
There were seven lead changes in a game that featured two teams that had reached last year’s NJCAA Division II Final Four that the Lakers won. Illinois Central finished fourth.
“This was a top five matchup and it is going to be a boxing match, and we were expecting their best and I am sure they were expecting our best,” said Redeker. “You have to understand it was going to be a possession by possession game. Credit to them. They have such a great program and Dave (Johnson) is a great coach. We are just thrilled for the win because we have not walked out of here with a lot of victories.”
Lake Land had led 36-33 after a basket by Olivia Niemerg when the Cougars went on a 19-3 run over the next 4:48 to take control of the game, leading 52-39 with 4:39 remaining after a 3-pointer by Saniay Tutt. Tayler Barry hit a 3-pointer and. basket to move the Lakers within eight with 3:52. But that was as close as they got down the stretch.
The score was tied for the seventh and final time at 37 when Niemerg appeared to put the Lakers back ahead. The referees, though, ruled the putback did not count even though the play appeared to have taken place before the referees called a violation on ICC. The Lakers didn’t score after getting the ball back on the possession.
“I don’t want to say that a call changes a game, but it changed the momentum of the game,” said Johnson. “You could tell we looked tired in the fourth quarter. Give them credit. They were very successful going inside and did a good job with that. We have to do a better job with that. We will work on that and get better with that. We played three solid quarters. We just have to play another quarter.”
ICC’s defense held Lake Land to just 7 baskets on 27 attempts from the field in the second half, including just 4-of-16 in the fourth. The Lakers had been ranked third nationally in free-throw percentage (74.7%) and seventh in 3-point percentage (.34.5%) entering the game. The Lakers, though, made 6-of-23 (.261) 3s and converted just 7-of-15 FTs (.467).
ICC did not lead by more than six (11-5) until the run in the final 10 minutes.
“I think our defense continued to wear them down,” said Redeker. “They are obviously a really good shooting team. We just tried to keep them on the run a little bit. We didn’t shoot well from the perimeter (1-of-17), but I guess we didn’t because we shot so well from the paint. I think our defense and rebounding kind of kept them off just a little bit.”
The Cougars shot 51 percent from inside the 3-point line (24-of-47) and outrebounded Lake Land 46-36.
“They didn’t have an answer for Cierra McNamee once she kind of got going,” said Redeker. We did a nice job of finding her.”
McNamee was 11-of-14 (.786) from the field and finished with 25 points, including 10 in the third quarter.
Lake Land used a 13-3 run in a span of 4:46 of the first half to take a 18-14 lead on a basket by Niemerg, who finished with a team-high 18 points. A 3-pointer by Alli Watson ended the scoring in the first half with Lake Land ahead 25-22.
“We talked offensively at halftime on trying to use Olivia (Niemerg) more inside, and it worked at times,” said Johnson. “We got a lot of good looks in the game, we just have to make them.”
Barry was also in double-digits for Lake Land with 10 points, including seven in the final quarter.
“We are not 100 percent,” said Johnson. “We have two kids that just came back off COVID. Lexi Niebrugge and Tayler Barry had not played a game since Dec. 30. They have a little rust to knock off, but they will be fine. Niemerg played well and is on a good stretch (fifth straight game in double digits) of playsing solid and doing a lot of different things for us. I thought Alli Watson played better tonight.”
The two teams play again at ICC on Feb. 16.
“It is a long way to March,” said Johnson, who said in hindsight he probably should have gone to the 2-3 zone earlier in the fourth quarter. “We have six weeks to get better.”
Lake Land tries to get back to its winning ways when they play host to Lewis & Clark at 1 p.m. Saturday
LAKE LAND: Niemerg 7 3-5 18, Sirjord 0 0-0 0, Barry 3 2-4 10, Niebrugge 3 1-3 7, Still 1 0-1 2, Barber 0 0-0 0, Watson 2 0-0 6, Russo 0 0-0 0, Custis 1 1-2 4, Phillips 0 0-0 0, Orris 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 7-15 47.
3-point goals: Lake Land 6-23 (.261) (Barry 2, Watson 2, Neimerg 1, Custis 1), Illinois Central 1-17 (.059) Tutt 1. Rebounds: Lake Land 36 (Watson 8), Illinois Central 46 (Mitchell, Edwards 7). Turnovers: Lake Land 17, Illinois Central College 10. Shooting percentages: Lake Land 17-55 (.309), Illinois Central 25-64 (.391)