By Mike Monahan

Lake Land’s Johnny Close said he leaned into some advice his father told him when he struggled early Friday night.

“My pops told me you have to keep shooting until you find it,” said Lake Land sophomore Johnny Close. “I can’t get discouraged because of some misses. I have got to have the confidence.”

Close made only one of three attempts from 3-point range in the first half.

But the sophomore came out hot in the second half, drilling his first 3s in the opening 6:30 and hitting six of seven overall after halftime to lead host Lake Land past Southeastern Illinois for the 98-77 victory.

Close finished with a game-high 29 points, hitting 11-of-18 from the field overall. 

“I think our team needed it, especially if they are going to sit back in a zone,” said Close. “We have to be able to knock some shots down. Jahmir Tyrell stepped up too, hitting four three-pointers and that is huge.”

Southeastern Illinois trailed 42-36 at the half after neither team led by more than six.

Lake Land scored the first six points in the second half – four by 6-foot-9, 215 pound Yassin (YaYa) Hussein.

Close scored eight points early thanks to his 3-pointers to help Lake Land expand its lead to 56-40 with 16 minutes left in the game. 

“We started off slow,” said Lake Land coach Julian Larry. “They had played four times already and this was our first game. They were more oiled than us at this time. We started off very sloppy, throwing the ball all over the place (15 turnovers in the first half). One thing we figured out was how to get in control. I have 11 freshmen, and they are learning and getting better. To start off the game was a struggle, but they handled the adversity well and they got it to the second half.”

The Falcons, who had their biggest lead at 34-30 with 3:37 left in the first half, rallied to within 71-65 with 7:43 remaining.

That is when Lake Land pulled away again, this time for good.

After a free throw by Hussein, Lake Land’s Tyrell and Close hit back-to-back 3-pointers, a putback by Hussein and seven straight points by Close made it 87-65 before Southeastern Noah Curry made a pair of free throws. The Falcons went 3:48 without a field goal until Curry sank a three-pointer with 3:55 left and making it 89-70, Lakers. 

“Our point guard (Arnardo Camacho) kind of knows how to give me the ball, and having a guard like that is awesome,” said Close. “He had 16 assists and is unselfishness. That is going to take us a long way. That was the difference as we had 16 assists and we won by 21.”

Lake Land outrebounded the Falcons 42-32 with Hussein finishing with 10 rebounds, tied with teammate Amar Kuljuhovic, who also scored 21.ahmir Tyrell came off the bench to score 16.

“If you play defense, it is going to be easier to win because everybody knows how to score,” said Larry. “Defensively, we finally picked it up in the second half and started learning. They started missing shots as well, which opened up the game for us to do what we do, and that is obviously run. That zone (1-2-2) was kind of hurting us at first and then we figured out the zone. Once we figured it out, it was hard for them. They had to go to man. When they went man, we knew we had it going. It was a good game, a good learning experience for our freshmen. The sophomores are understanding  and remembering what it takes to win games.”

Southeastern Illinois3641 –77
Lake Land4256 –98

SOUTHEASTERN ILLINOIS: Curry 6-2-17, Wales 2-2-6, Simpson 1-0-2 Burse 5-2-12, Anthony 8-7-23, Ramer 0-0-0, Spann 3-2-8, Vaughn 0-0-0, Mackey 0-0-0, Rankin 2-0-5, Kenoer 2-0-4, Totals 29-15-77

LAKE LAND: Close 11-0-29, Camacho 2-1-5, Kuljhovic 3-1-7, Neal 3-0-6, Hussein 9-3-21, Carroll 1-2-5, Tyrell 6-0-16, Chapman 2-2-7, Davis 1-0-2, Moore 0-0-0, Totals 38-9-98

3-point goals: Lake Land: 13-33 (Close 7-12, Camacho 0-1, Kuljhovic 0-1, Neal 0-4, Carroll 1-2, Tyrell 4-7, Chapman 1-3, Davis 0-3)

Rebounds: Southeastern Illinois College 32 (Curry 7), Lake Land College 42 (Hussien, Kuljhovic 10). Shooting percentages: Southeastern Illinois College 29-62 .468, Lake Land 38-78 .87. Three-point field goals: Southeastern Illinois College 4-16.250, Lake Land 13-33 .394. Assists: Lake Land 29 (Camacho 16), Free throw percentages: Southeastern Illinois College 15-19 (.789), Lake Land College 9-14 (.642). Turnovers; Southeastern Illinois 27, Lake Land 27. Steals Lake Land 12 (Close 4)