MATTOON — The Lake Land women's basketball game on Sunday had a few key implications. Sunday's game was against Kankakee, which was ranked No. 13 in the latest NJCAA Division II pool. Plus a win over No. 13 Kankakee would give the Lady Lakers a 2-1 record at its own Suite Dreams Hotel Holiday Classic.
But most importantly, a win over 13th-ranked Kankakee would be the 400th win for Lake Land head coach Dave Johnson.
The 400th win seemed to be in the bag early when the Lady Lakers jumped out to a 12-point lead in the first quarter, but Kankakee battled back. The game came down to the final shot, but Johnson picked up his 400th career win as Lake Land knocked off Kankakee 79-77 on Sunday.
This is Johnson's 20th season at Lake Land. So during his tenure, the Lady Lakers have averaged at least 20 wins per season.
"It means a lot because it means that I've got to coach a lot of great young women who have given everything to this program – and that's what I am most proud of, because they share in this 400th win obviously," Johnson said. "I can remember back to my first team. We were 3-12 at the halfway point and finished 16-16. They set the tone for winning here at Lake Land. That consistency, all people can ask you to be is consistent, and I think we have been here. I am just grateful for all of the players that have played for me."
Johnson said it wasn't just a big win because he got his 400th win, but also because Lake Land knocked off a ranked opponent.
"It's a huge win. They have two great sophomores with (Kiara) Moses and (Jasmine) Elliott, and those two kids combined for 40 points," Johnson said. "We didn't have a lot going defensively, but we got enough stops. Putting Gabby Staub on Elliott was big because I thought that limited her after we put (Staub) on her. We didn't foul at the end and we showed discipline."
Lake Land opened the tournament with a 71-57 Region 24 loss to John Wood on Thursday, but bounced back with an 83-40 win over Prairie State on Saturday. The win over Kankakee gives Lake Land a 10-5 record as the Lady Lakers went 2-1 at the Classic.
"3-0 is always better than 2-1, but our kids bounced back and I saw really good things out of the kids (Saturday) in their enthusiasm and preparation. I saw the same thing (Sunday)," Johnson said. "I think we are playing with better energy right now and we seem to be figuring things out a little better. Trying to get us to cut down on our turnovers. We had 16 (Sunday), only eight (Saturday), so that's a big factor. I think we are identifying roles better now."
Avery Jackson led Lake Land with 31 points, seven rebounds and four assists, and Koty Crowder had 22 points, four 3-pointers, seven rebounds and three assists.
"They played so well together. They feed off each other," Johnson said. "Avery is so good at attacking the basket and Koty's 3-point shot the last few games has been right there. Just our decision-making, we are not forcing things like we were earlier in the season. I think we are smoother now."
Lake Land jumped out to a 10-2 lead and was up 23-11 going into the second quarter.
The Lady Lakers had a 27-13 lead early in the second quarter when Kankakee got back into the game. Kankakee went on a 15-2 run to make it a one-point game with 2:49 let in the half.
Lake Land went on an 8-0 run in the final 2:27 of the half to go into the locker room with a 37-28 advantage.
Lake Land’s defense struggled against Kankakee in the third quarter. Kankakee scored 30 points and wound up taking a 51-46 lead with 4:43 left in the quarter.
Johnson said the defense is still a work in progress.
"We will continue to work on in and in March, we will hopefully be the best defensive team we can be," Johnson said.
Lake Land’s offense started to match Kankakee point for point and got the final shot of the quarter, a 3-pointer by Jaycie Roy to retake the lead at 59-58 going into the fourth.
With the game tied at 63, Lake Land seemed to take control of the game again when the Lady Lakers went on a 9-2 run to go up 72-65.
But Kankakee had one last run in them. With Lake Land up 77-68 with 2:30 left, Kankakee went on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 77 with 39 seconds remaining.
Lake Land had a chance to take the lead with a layup, but it hit off the side of the rim and Kankakee got the rebound.
Kankakee couldn't take advantage, though, and as Crowder came down with the rebound, she was fouled. Lake Land was in the bonus and Crowder made both free throws with 7 seconds remaining for a 79-77 lead.
"Chasing that ball down, that's the second part of rebounding. Blocking out is the first part and chasing ball down is the second part, and (Crowder) did that," Johnson said. "Callie Williams had a huge offensive rebound in the third quarter where she kicked it out and we hit a 3 off that. Those are plays that no one really notices, but they are game-winners."
Kankakee benefited from second-chance points in the first half. Kankakee had 11 offensive rebounds, but Lake Land only allowed three offensive boards in the second half and outrebounded Kankakee 40 to 35 for the game.
Kiara Moses tried to tie the game for Kankakee, but Lake Land's Jamie Sandschaefer stuck with Moses and forced a tough layup opportunity. The ball rolled off the rim and the buzzer sounded as Lake Land won 79-77.
"I think just make her score over the top, that's all we wanted in that last possession," Johnson said. "Don't give up a 3 and make her score over the top. We made her go to her left, which is what I wanted. It was right there, hit the back iron and bounced out and there wasn't enough time for them to get the rebound and put it back."