ROBINSON, ILL. – Wabash Valley solidified its hold on one of the top seeds in the upcoming District tournament by holding off fast-charging Lincoln Trail, 82-78, in Great Rivers Athletic Conference play on Wednesday night.
The Warriors had to hang on all right. An eight-point lead was trimmed to two within one minute. It took two free throws by Tony Burks in the final seconds to finally cement the team's 17th win in 25 starts.
Even the players grasped the importance of the win. They doused coach Mike Carpenter with ice as he entered the locker room after the game.
The top five teams in the District receive first-round byes in the 11-team post-season tournament, with a berth in the NJCAA national tournament going to the winner. Wabash was fourth and Lincoln Trail fifth heading into the game, but now there is a full one-game separation between the two clubs with only four district games remaining.
"We were not our best but we're good enough to win basketball games, because we played together," a chilled Carpenter told his players in the locker. "We defended together, we got some huge rebounds down the stretch, and we knocked down some big free throws."
Burks, a 6-foot-2 sophomore from St. Louis, finished with a season-high total of 23 points to lead the Warriors, who improved to 10-3 in the GRAC. Amir Yusuf (6-9 sophomore from Louisville, Ky.) added 16 points, while Raekwon Drake (6-5 sophomore from Chicago) and Bobby Harvey (6-3 sophomore from Hazelcrest) chipped in 11 apiece.
Lincoln Trail (16-7, 9-5 in GRAC) was led by Alex Heath (5-10 sophomore from Cleveland). He scored 21 points to lead the Statesmen, but holding him to slightly above his average of 18.6ppg was a victory of sorts for Wabash Valley. Heath scored 45 points against the Warriors in their first meeting back on January 8.
WVC now brings a three-game winning streak back home to Spencer Sports Center on Saturday. The Warriors host GRAC front-runner John A. Logan at 6pm.