MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. -- It wasn't always pretty at times, but the Wabash Valley College men's basketball team made enough winning plays down the stretch to secure a narrow 79-77 victory over Lewis and Clark in a thrilling overtime victory.
Both teams traded some sloppy possessions with under a minute to play in the game, forcing the game to overtime with the two teams tied at 67-67.
It appeared as if the Warriors were set to pull away from the Trailblazers. They had just scored a 6-0 run courtesy of a Chucky Wilson jumper and four points by Cam Gross. The two sophomores positioned the Warriors well, giving WVC a 75-70 lead with just over three minutes remaining. But without how this game had gone, you could just feel the Trailblazers weren't done quite yet.
Josh Thomas hit a floater to put the Warriors ahead 77-75 with 34 seconds remaining and then Justin Carpenter came up with a massive block on the other end and the ball went off the Lewis and Clark player, giving the Warriors the ball with 17 seconds remaining. It was a really great recovery by Carpenter, who blocked the shot from behind despite allowing the inside position.
"I think it was just never giving up," Carpenter spoke of his block. "No matter if I get beat baseline or a guy trying to euro-step around me, keep trying to contest, get the rebound and stay focused. Don't give up, never give up. A come from behind block like I did late in the game and just keep playing defense."
Lewis and Clark was forced to foul Wilson with 17 seconds remaining, who went to the charity stripe with an opportunity to potentially put the game on ice. Wilson coolly stepped to the line, but missed both free throws off back iron. The Trailblazers hustled the ball up the court and tied the game at 77-77 with five seconds remaining.
With time for one final possession against a Lewis and Clark full-court press, Warrior Zion Morgan brought the ball up. The Trailblazers had all five defenders past the half-court mark pressing Morgan. In an extremely high basketball IQ level move by both players, Thomas snuck behind all the Trailblazers defenders and stuck his hand up for the ball. Morgan alertly noticed Thomas' hand and the rest was history.
"JT's hand like this (holding it up)," Morgan said. "That's all I saw. Coach Carp, like he said in the timeout, use the timeout if you have to, but I wasn't thinking timeout at all. All five of their players were up pressing like they didn't know what they were doing and JT sprinted up the court with his hand up like a wide receiver. Some of my football skills came back out. That was all JT though, I promise you, I was not looking at him. I just saw his hand [up] and I threw it at him."
Thomas finished through the late arriving Lewis and Clark defenders and laid it high off the glass just before the buzzer -- swish. Thomas was mobbed by his teammates in celebration, putting him on their shoulders in a celebratory scene.
"That was a heck of a play," head coach Mike Carpenter said. To have the confidence to get it up and push it up like that. It's the easiest time to score, late in a game like that. If you call a timeout they get to set up their defense. Every one thinks you should draw up a play here, but really if you have playmakers like we do, we practice four minute games just about every day. We had a timeout with four minutes left and talked about that. Four minute game is the most crucial part in the second half of a game and the first half, the last four minutes of the half. We won that four minute game, won the game and escaped with a win."
Coach Carpenter believes it's going to cause him some gray hair with the close finishes, but it's the sixth overtime the Warriors have been in this season. Their record in those games? 5-1.
In the first half the Warriors boasted a 17-pont lead (36-19), but allowed the Trailblazers to get back into it with sloppy play, primarily unforced turnovers, some poor shot selection and a 58 percent shooting performance from the charity stripe. There's stuff to work on, but it can be remedied.
"At the end of the day the kids made some big plays down the stretch," coach Carpenter said. "It was just frustrating to be up 15, 16, 17 points in the first half and let them back in. Give them credit, they could have folded but they didn't."
Thomas finished the night with 24 points on 10-17 shooting in 40 minutes of action. Morgan was the other lone Warrior in double-digits, tallying 15 points, but complemented it with six boards and three assists, including the last game-winning assist. Lewis and Clark was led by Ziven Clark's 27 points, including 7-10 from 3-point range.
Despite a distinct height advantage the Warriors out-rebounded Lewis and Clark just 30-29. To Lewis and Clark's credit though, they showed a healthy dose of man and zone and did a nice job of boxing out the Warriors on the glass.
Wabash Valley (14-6) will now travel to face Southeastern Illinois College in a men's-women's basketball double-header. The two teams faced at WVC back in November, a game in which the Warriors won 87-59. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. for the men, 1 p.m. for the women.
They'll return home for a pink out on Wednesday against No. 6 ranked John A. Logan (18-2). The Volunteers defeated WVC 98-88 at home back in December, but this time the game will be at WVC with the Warriors having revenge on their mind. The women's team will begin the night with a 5:30 p.m. tip-off, followed by the men at 7:30 p.m. They'll likely be selling t-shirts and having fundraisers such as bake sales at the door.
"Hoping to raise a lot of money for a good cause and we'll have a lot of pink on with staff and players and stuff as well," coach Carpenter said. "That's against John A. Logan, should be two really good games. Better be, right coach Jack [Trosper]?"
WVC -- 39 28 12 -- 79
LC -- 31 36 10 -- 77
WVC scoring: Thomas 10 1 24, Morgan 6 2 15, Newsom 2 2 8, Gross 3 2 8, Christian 2 3 7, Wilson 2 2 6, Carpenter 2 1 6, Cook 2 0 4, Boyd 0 1 1.