Story by Mike Monahan/Photos by Chet Piotrowski

Lake Land scored early and often to cruise past Lincoln Trail on the Region 24 men’s basketball tournament.

Not only do the Lakers advance into Monday’s semifinals at Rend Lake after winning its third straight game.

The Lakers also posted the program’s most wins since going an identical 17-14 five years ago.

Plus, the team has posted consecutive winning seasons for the first time in a decade.

“We just stuck to what we have been doing in practice all week and being prepared for them,” said Lake Land coach Julian Larry, who is assured of having back-to-back winning seasons after going 16-15 last year. “We just made sure we stuck to the game plan. They executed very well. We didn’t give up a lot of second chance points and that helped us. It was a great win for us.”

Lake Land plays No. 14 Vincennes University (26-4) at 5 p.m. Monday.

Lake Land had previously defeated Lincoln Trail — 81-77 on Feb. 22 and 71-62 on Jan. 21.

It never got that close Saturday at Laker Fieldhouse. The Lakers used an 18-2 run in a span of 5:35 to go ahead 25-11 with 7:58 left in the first half en route to a 94-64 victory.

The Lakers, meanwhile, have lost twice to Vincenness — 97-69 on Feb. 11 at Lake Land and 80-75 on Dec. 17 at Vincennes.

Lincoln Trail (12-19) led briefly early before the Lakers went on its early run, ignited by one of five 3-pointers by Johnny Close.

Lake Land’s man-to-man defense held Lincoln Trail to just 10-of-39 .256 from the field, while the Lakers were an impressive 18-of-35 .514.

“It’s the playoffs,” said Amar Kuljuhovic, a 6-9 sophomore, revealing scratches on his right arm. “You have to lock in and take everything to heart. Don’t worry about anything else. Just put everything on the floor. Put your whole heart into it and just give it everything you have on the court. I gave it my all.”

Lake Land continued to get the ball inside as they scored 15 of the first 16 points in the opening 6:34 to take a commanding 58-25 lead on a 3-pointer by Tyler Chapman. Kuljuhovic had six points during the run.

“I just noticed I was a stronger player in the post and I always tell my players to shoot it and I will be there to get the reobunds. They have the confidence to shoot and if they missed I was there to clean it up.”

Kuljuhovic finished with a game-high 20 points and 15 rebounds.

Last season Lake Land lost the opening round game 99-93 to Lewis & Clark, a team it had beaten 10 days before that 94-74 and 94-87.

“Compared to last year we had our heads down and were crying and myself and all of the sophomores (total of five) wanted to make sure we didn’t go out like that. I also told them, ‘Let’s make history. We know who we are, but we have to prove it to everyone else who we are.’”

Larry was happy with the offense and defense. 

“We want to attack and work our way inside and out if possible,” said Larry. “It helps a lot when Johnny Close is shooting the ball the way he shoots it. It gets everyone else going. Defensively, I felt like we had a lot of contested shots. We finished their possessions with rebounds (outrebounded Lincoln Trail 57-33). Amar (Kuljuhovic) did a great job on the glass and so did Amardo Camacho. Our whole starting five had at least three or four plus rebounds and that is what you need.”

Closson honored

Jim Closson sat at the scorers table getting ready for the men’s game when he was told to go on to the court. 

Lake Land gave him a banner that thanked him for his 30 years of service as the Laker men’s and women’s scorebook keeper for 30 years.

LINCOLN TRAIL: Jenkins 2 0-0 5, Wickliffe, jr. 3 0-0 7,Lester 2 0-0 4, Reese 2 0-2 4, Felix, Jr. 0 3-4 3, Kaigler 1 0-2 2, Tyler 2 0-0 4, Tucker 1 2-2 5, Word 3 0-1 6, Smith 2 0-0 4, Williams 1 0-0 2, Huttenlocker 5 5-5 18, Totals 24 10-15 64

LAKE LAND: Chapman 1 0-0 3, Cox 3 4-5 10, Camacho 5 1-1 11, Kuljuhovic 9 2-4 20, Hussein 3 4-5 10, Close 6 0-0 17, Carroll 4 2-2 10, Davis 1 5-6 7, Moore 0 0-0 0, Neal 0 2-2 2, Diof 3 0-0 6, Totals 35 18-22 94

Halftime: Lake Land 43, Lincoln Trail 24.

3-point goals; Lincoln Trail 6-22 .273 (Jenkins 1-3, Wickliffe, jr. 1-5, Tucker 1-1, Huttenlocker 3-4, Lester 0-1, Kaigler 0-1, Reese 0-2, Smith 0-2, Tyler 0-1). Lake Land 6-16 .375 (Close 5-8, Chapman 1-2, Camacho 0-1, Tyrell 0-1, Diof 0-1, Davis 0-1, Cox 0-1, Moore 0-1). Rebounds: Lincoln Trail 33 (Felix, jr. 6), Lake Land 57 (Kuljjuhovic 15). Turnovers: Lincoln Trail 17, Lake Land 13. Bench points: Lincoln Trail 42, Lake Land 42. Field goal shooting: Lincoln Trail 25-70 .357, Lake Land 35-74 .473.