March 8, 2015

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

INA - Somehow, some way, the John A. Logan College men's basketball team got it done.

Given up for dead, the Volunteers defied all odds Saturday night, overcoming a 10-point deficit (76-66) in the final four minutes of regulation and went on to beat previously undefeated Vincennes University, 105-98, in double overtime to claim the District 16 championship at Rend Lake College.

A win for the Trailblazers simply meant a perfect season would remain intact at 33-0, and along with it, the top seed at the national tournament, which gets under way March 16 in Hutchinson, Kansas.

A win for the Volunteers, however, meant much more than a District 16 championship plaque. It meant much more than a higher seed at Nationals.

It meant respect.

The Logan players set out to earn the respect of a Vincennes team that beat them twice during the regular season by a combined eight points – 71-70 on Jan. 7 in Indiana and 76-69 on Feb. 11 in Carterville. The Logan players wanted to leave no doubt that they were every bit as worthy of adulation as is Vincennes.

From the opening tip, it was game on – a no-holds-barred slugfest on a neutral floor that will long be remembered by those in attendance as one of the greatest college games ever played – at least at the JUCO level.

There was physicality in the paint and expert marksmanship from the perimeter from both teams. Logan hammered away inside with its athletic center, Russell Woods, power forward Jordan Martin and reserve forward Tamas Bruce, as well as oversized guard deluxe, A.J. Riley.

The Trailblazers countered from the outside with the sweet shooting of Mychal Mulder and Charles Foster. At times, the roles reversed and Vincennes capitalized in the lane with Makur Puou, A.J. Patty and Keith Mack, while the Vols relied upon the outside shooting of Martavian Payne, Devontavius Payne and Connor Wheeler.

In essence, each team took turns besting the other.

And, on occasion, tempers flared, illustrating the desire each had to beat the other – even when both teams had already punched their tickets to Nationals the night before.

Logan forced the extra session through sheer will and intestinal fortitude. It was Riley who tied the game at 76 all and Riley whose conventional three-point play gave the Vols the lead at 79-78. Unfazed, Mulder canned a triple to give Vincennes the lead back at 81-79. Martavian Payne sank two free throws to tie it at 81. Riley had a chance to win the game with six seconds to play, but missed a two-shot foul. Mulder’s half-court heave rimmed out at the buzzer, leading to the first extra session.

In that first five-minute period, Mulder buried a bomb to give the Trailblazers a four-point lead at 86-82, but the Vols answered. Devontavius Payne calmly drained a trifecta to cut the deficit to one. Foster scored on the other end for an 88-85 lead, but Martavian Payne tied it up again at 88 with a launch job of his own.

After Vincennes went up two, Riley’s stickback tied the game once more at 90. Mack scored on the other end, but Riley tallied on the opposite side, leaving the game knotted at 92. Donte’ McGill was open for a shot from the right corner in an attempt to win the game for Vincennes, but Wheeler blocked his shot, forcing a second overtime.

Logan took control in the second extra session. Woods marked in the lane. After Mack made one of two free throws, Devontavius Payne tickled the twine from beyond the arc for a 97-93 lead.

Everett Clemons of the Trailblazers was then fouled. He made the first and missed the second attempt, but Mulder came soaring in, grabbed the offensive rebound and scored to pull Vincennes within one at 97-96.

Woods then missed two free throws, but Logan got the ball back and Riley was fouled. This time, the sophomore hit both tosses for a 99-96 advantage. Foster responded with two tosses of his own as Vincennes pulled within one at 99-98. Woods scored in the paint to boost the spread back to three. Two free throws each by Martavian Payne and Bruce finally sealed the win for the Vols.

The Volunteers, now 27-6 overall, await their seed and pairing for the opening round of the national tournament. It is only the second time in school history that Logan has qualified for Nationals with the last appearance coming in 1995 under head coach Tom Ashman. By contrast, Vincennes has qualified for Nationals 30 times.

"There's no way we should have been able to come from behind like we did against the No. 1 team in the country," said an overjoyed JALC head coach Kyle Smithpeters. "But we didn't hang our heads. We kept chipping away and battling. I'm so proud of these kids. They earned this victory. And we're not done yet. Now, we have the opportunity to prove ourselves at Nationals."

Statistically speaking, Martavian Payne led the Logan offense with 25 points. Woods followed with 23.

Riley, who undoubtedly took over the game at crunch time for the Vols with a flurry of power moves to the basket that resulted in baskets and drawn fouls. He was a one-man wrecking crew against the Vincennes defense. Riley finished with 21 points in all, 19 of which came in the second half.

“I knew that my team needed me, so I gave everything I had,” Riley said. “It’s a dream to be heading to Nationals. It will be exciting, but we’re not done. We still have work to do.”

While the aforementioned trio did the bulk of the scoring damage for the Vols, the win was most certainly a team effort.

Freshman Devontavius Payne contributed 12 points. Freshman Tamas Bruce tacked on eight, as well as 10 rebounds. Sophomores Martin and Wheeler each accounted for seven points. Freshman Ranell Crossland drained two free throws. Sophomores Bobby Mannie, Tyler Scott and Jeremiah Jackson did not score, but contributed mightily on the defensive end.

The game was tied 38 all at the half; 81 all at the end of regulation; and 92 all after the first overtime period.

As a team, the Vols connected on 40-of-80 shots from the field for 50 percent, including 7-of-16 from beyond the arc. They were also 18-of-32 from the free-throw line.           

Vincennes falls to 32-1 overall. The Trailblazers were led in scoring by Mulder with 38 points.