March 7, 2015

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

INA – The John A. Logan College men’s basketball team overcame a seven-point halftime deficit (38-31) Friday night to defeat Kaskaskia 73-70 in the semifinal round of the District Tournament hosted by Rend Lake College.

The win improves the Volunteers’ record to 26-6 on the season and propels them into the championship game of the District at 7 p.m. Saturday against the nation’s top-ranked and undefeated Vincennes, Ind. Trailblazers. The win also locks up a trip to the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. for the Vols as two teams automatically qualify for Nationals out of District 16.

Logan’s national appearance is its first in 20 years and only the second such appearance in school history.

The winning basket came with 13 seconds left in the game when sophomore guard Connor Wheeler of Du Quoin drained a 3-pointer from the left corner as the shot clock was about to expire. Justin King’s long-range three to tie the game just missed the mark as the final buzzer sounded.

“I got a great pass from Tae (Martavian Payne) and got a good look. Thank God, it went in,” Wheeler said. “We didn’t want to let this one slip away. We have worked too hard and come too far to fall short. That’s what makes going to Nationals so special.”

Vols head coach Kyle Smithpeters was relieved.

“I’m just glad Connor hit that shot,” he said. “Things weren’t going our way tonight for the most part. We weren’t very good at times, but we kept fighting. We were resilient. And I am very proud of the kids. We didn’t quit. We came up with some big plays when we had to have them. Give Kaskaskia credit. They played a great game against us.”

While it was Wheeler who knocked down the game-winning shot, it was the 1-2 punch of center Russell Woods and shooting guard Martavian Payne that carried Logan on this night.

Woods had a game-high 25 points and yanked down 12 rebounds. Payne accounted for 24 points, including four triples, and added six rebounds.

“Both of those guys really came up big,” Smithpeters said. “We needed those kind of games from them and they delivered.”

Payne said ever so modestly that he was just glad to contribute.

“I just knew that we had to keep on pushing, even when we were down by 10 in the first half. I had faith in my teammates that we would come back, and we did.”

Woods was overjoyed with the Vols’ win and accomplishment of qualifying for Nationals.

“That’s been our goal. Now, we want to go out and beat Vincennes. We owe them one…in fact, we owe them two.”

Yet another sophomore, A.J. Riley, was again solid in a reserve role, scoring eight points and grabbing eight rebounds. Wheeler totaled seven. Sophomores Jordan Martin and Jeremiah Jackson each netted three. Freshman Tamas Bruce also had three and brought down eight rebounds.

As a team, the Vols converted 26-of-70 shots from the field and 6-of-22 from long range. They were 15-of-25 from the free-throw line.