It took a week of dominant basketball to get Vincennes University where it wanted to be, but now the question is if the Trailblazers can maintain their spot.
VU gets its first crack today when it plays at Lincoln Trail (Ill.) at 8:30 p.m. today in a Region 24 men's basketball game.
The eighth-ranked Trailblazers (20-3, 11-2 Region 24) control the region again after winning at Wabash Valley, 86-50, and its showdown game with No. 16 John A. Logan, 81-67, Saturday at the P.E. Complex. If VU can claim its remaining seven region games, it will do no worse than tie for the top spot with Logan and earn the No. 1 seed in the region tournament.
But that hard work last week won't do any good if the Blazers continue the occasional hiccup they suffered this season. The Statesmen (16-4, 9-4), in third place in the region, are good enough to force that to happen.
"We're just trying to move forward, to have that daily focus that we showed last week," VU coach Todd Franklin said. "The guys demonstrated last week that they're right there with the better teams in the country. We've shown we can handle adversity. Let's see how we handle prosperity.
"Nothing we did last week was flukey. It's stuff we can repeat, and we can get better too. If that happens, it can be scary dealing with us. It's hard to do that all the time, but that's why it's hard to be a champion."
The Blazers, who are second in the country with a 60.0 defensive average, start 6-6 sophomore Kevin Osawe (15.2 points per game), 6-1 sophomore Craig Porter (14.0), 6-7 sophomore Chinedu Okanu (11.6), 6-0 sophomore Chuka Mekkam (8.7) and 6-4 freshman Randy Tucker (6.9).
Osawe and Porter combined for their best game Saturday, tallying 40 point and 20 rebounds. Tucker, who is shooting 48 percent from 3-point range, hit four trifectas in the win. The team also got a boost from 6-9 sophomore Kevin Kone, who tied his career high with 15 points.
VU owns a 75-61 win over Lincoln Trail, pulling away late in the Dec. 11 game at the P.E. Complex. The Statesmen played that game without their two top scorers, 5-10 sophomore Alex Heath (18.9) and 6-6 sophomore Jaylon Holmes (17.5).
"They haven't lost at home all year, and they've been a high-scoring team all year (90.5 points per game). Offensive-oriented teams are always a lot better at home," Franklin said. "We have to have a good night defensively, handle the ball and good get shots, so if we do miss we're set up defensively. We don't need to fan their flames, make them feel good at home. We have to play right.
"We know what we need to do, but if we don't do it, it's a real problem. They're obviously going to be jacked up. It's a Super Bowl-type of game for them. If we're less than our best, we could easily get beat."
The honorable mention VU women (20-4, 11-1) play Lincoln Trail (13-6, 7-4) in the 6:30 p.m. opener. The Blazers, second in the country with their 90.3 average, are led by 5-7 sophomore Jhala Henry (19.9), 6-3 sophomore Fess Hawkins (15.7) and 5-5 sophomore Jaynice Stovall (15.3). Hawkins leads the NJCAA with her 68.6 shooting percentage and is fourth in rebounding at 14.4 per game.
Region 24 men's standings
(Courtesy of Dave Hunter - WVUB radio)
John A. Logan|11-2|17-5
Lewis & Clark|5-7|12-8
Vincennes 81, John A. Logan 67
Olney Central 97, Rend Lake 87
SW Illinois 61, Kaskaskia 55
Lincoln Trail 91, SE Illinois 72
Shawnee 79, Lake Land 69
Wabash Valley 101, Lewis & Clark 67
Vincennes at Lincoln Trail
Wabash Valley at Lake Land
John A. Logan at SE Illinois
Olney Central at Kaskaskia
Shawnee at Lewis & Clark
Rend Lake at SW Illinois