MATTOON — In a battle of the last two Great Rivers Conference undefeated men's basketball teams, Lake Land erased a 17-point second-half deficit to defeat Southwestern Illinois College 127-118 in overtime.
Sophomores Josh Jefferson and Amel Kuljuhovic scored 33 and 32, respectively, and Rantoul native Kevin Williams added 24 of his own to lead the way for Lake Land.
For SWIC, Braden Fitzjerrells led all scorers with 34 points on the strength of eight 3-pointers.
The first half featured 12 lead changes and in spite of leading by as many as seven, SWIC’s lead was just 47-46 at the intermission.
In the first half, SWIC had no answer for Jefferson, whose first two baskets were threes and who slashed his way to 16 of Lake Land’s 46 first-half points, including going a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.
The only problem for the Lakers was they had no answer for either 6-6 forward Jaalam Hill, who bulled his way to 14 first-half points including three dunks, or Fitzjerrells, who went 3-of-6 from long range en route to 13 points of his own.
“I thought we were pretty solid offensively in the first half,” Lake Land head coach Brandon Colvin stated. “But defensively we didn’t sprint back after they broke our traps. We talked about that at halftime, but we didn’t do that well either to begin the second half. Then they went on their run.”
The run Colvin alluded to was a 19-3 run by the Blue Storm, holding the Lakers scoreless from 11:31 in the second half, when Williams scored from close, until 6:37, when Sean Kromah drilled a triple from the right wing. That took what was a 72-70 game to what looked like a soon-to-be-blowout at 89-73.
Then the Lakers started to claw their way back.
With 52 seconds left, Jefferson drove the right side of the lane, took the ball behind his back and laid the ball in to cut the Lake Land deficit to nine at 101-92.
Then with 27 seconds, Jefferson’s 3-point play and an offensive rebound and put back by Kuljuhovic set the stage for Jefferson’s heroics.
With 11 seconds to go, the sophomore guard stole SWIC’s inbound pass and laid it home to cut the deficit to 105-103.
Then after Hill missed his second free-throw attempt on the ensuing SWIC possession, Tra Landers rebounded the ball and raced across the half-court line and drained a 3-pointer with three seconds left, sending the game to overtime after Lake Land got a defensive stop stop.
The extra period went back-and-forth like the first half until the 3:30 mark when Williams sank two free throws and Landers added a bucket to get the momentum turning in the Lakers’ favor.
Then with 2:42 left, Williams grabbed an offensive rebound on the left side of the lane and jumped up and dunked among three SWIC players, extending the lead to 115-112.
“That was really the exclamation point,” Colvin said of the dunk by Williams. “That got our players and our bench into it and it took them out of the game.”
Right after the dunk by Williams, Hill fouled out for the Blue Storm, which seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for the Blue Storm.
Lake Land's next game isn't until 2018 when Lake land hosts Blackburn College on Jan. 4.