- By Evan Merrill Sports Editor
- Mt. Carmel Register
MOUNT CARMEL -- Wabash Valley College staved off a late Shawnee charge to squeak out a 68-63 victory over the Saints on Saturday night at the Spencer Sports Center.
After a nail-biter of a loss to Vincennes last Wednesday, the Warriors were left with a feeling of disappointment, but also affirmation. If they can come inches from defeating the reigning National Champions on their home-court, why can't they turn their early season struggles around?
They came out of the gate strong, with sophomore Raekwon Drake scoring six of the Warriors' first 10 points. Drake's early prowess beyond the arc would be shortlived however, as he battled foul trouble all night, and eventually fouled out in just eight minutes of action.
Despite Shawnee continuously responding with some big buckets to keep within striking distance, Wabash Valley maintained a lead for the entire first half and led 33-32 at the break.
Sophomore Bobby Harvey spearheaded an early Warriors run with a pair of free throws, followed by a putback by freshman Jejuan Weatherspoon, an and-one by freshman Issac Stanback, and a pull-up 16-footer by sophomore Marcus Garrett, giving the Warriors a 9-0 run to quickly jump ahead 42-32.
Shawnee would draw closer, only for Garrett to score four straight and lead the Warriors on another run to lead by double-digits.
It felt as if the momentum was solely in Wabash Valley's possession heading down the stretch, as Shawnee struggled to consistently create looks against Wabash Valley's stifling zone, but the Warriors allowed the Saints to linger, in part due to some inefficient late free throw shooting.
"We told our guys at halftime, they will not go away," Carpenter spoke of Shawnee's rally. "We could have them down 20 and they will not stop playing. That's what happened. We had them down 10 or 12 and they keep playing. We have some things to clean up, but I was proud of our guys for sticking in there and grabbing some big rebounds."
After a couple empty handed trips to the charity stripe, Shawnee was back within two at 58-56, before Harvey nailed a crucial 3-pointer with 2:54 remaining in the ballgame.
The Warriors kept failing to convert at the line and left the door open once again for Shawnee.
After Garrett went 1-for-2 at the line with 26 seconds remaining, Yusuf was called for an over the back, sending the Saints to the line for the double bonus trip. They knocked down both, reducing the lead down to 65-63 with time waning.
Shawnee intentionally fouled sophomore Tony Burks on the ensuing possession and Burks knocked down just one free throw. The door was left open with 20 seconds remaining and the Saints down by just three, if they could come away with a clutch 3-pointer.
Thankfully for the Warriors, they managed to get a stop and Shawnee turned it over on the other end with 14 seconds left. They'd be forced to foul Garrett once again intentionally, this time he walked to the line with a big smile on his face and was oozing confidence. He calmly knocked down the first free throw before turning and grinning at the bench and knocking down the second.
"Because I missed a couple and got a little down," Garrett spoke of hitting the final two free throws. "Smiling just picks me back up, then I made the next two."
It was a tough, hard-nosed victory, one that should serve the Warriors well down the stretch. Shawnee continued to fight, albeit the Warriors left the door open for them to be able to.
Wabash Valley's free throw shooting on the night ended at an eye popping 23-of-45 (51.1 percent). They shot 36.4 percent from the field, but limited Shawnee to 38.7 percent. They won the turnover margin (14 Shawnee turnovers to Wabash Valley's six) and recorded seven steals to get their transition game going.
"Free throws is a tricky deal because if you started talking about them they become mental," Carpenter said. "We had the right guys shooting them tonight they just struggled. Sometimes missing free throws is contagious. I don't think I've ever coached in a game where we missed 20 free throws and won, we're very fortunate. Shawnee did us some favors, they missed a lot too."
Garrett led all scorers with a stat-stuffing 17 points, eight boards and six assist night. Yusuf finished with a double-double, recording 10 points and 10 boards, and Burks and Stanback each recorded 10 crucial points off the bench for the Warriors.
"I try to bring the energy every night," Yusuf spoke of his night. "If he has butterflies or can't go, then I can start it up and he can follow right behind me. Like let's get it, let's get the win. If I start it every night then everybody else follows through. It's just an every night thing I'm trying to bring energy."
The Warriors improve to 4-5 with the victory, but have won three of their last four games, with their one loss coming at the hands of No. 3 Vincennes by just a three-point margin. They'll look to continue their momentum on Wednesday when they host Lake Land at 7:30 p.m.