MATTOON — Lake Land men's basketball coach Brandon Colvin felt coming into the season that the Lakers had the talent to compete for a District 16 title and a chance at making the NJCAA Division I tournament.
Before the Christmas break, Colvin's team was proving him right. The Lakers had only two losses in 2017 – Parkland College and Henry Ford – and won 10 games. The Lakers opened up 2018 with a win over Lincoln Trail, but cracks started to show in a loss to Shawnee Community College.
The Lakers bounced back and won their next two games and went into a matchup with then third-ranked Vincennes with the second-best record in the district. Vincennes beat Lake Land 100-61, and it started a slide for the Lakers. With the loss, Lake Land dropped six of its next seven games. Since Vincennes beat Lake Land, the Lakers went from second in the standings to the seventh spot.
So Lake Land went from receiving a first-round bye to having a District 16 play-in game at 7 p.m. Monday at home against Lincoln Trail College. The winner advances to the District 16 quarterfinals at Rend Lake College.
Even with all of the ups and downs this season, Colvin still feels the same way he does at the beginning of the season: his team has the talent to make a deep run at the District 16 tournament. They just have to put it all together.
"I think we have a chance like anyone else to make a run if we play defense and play with more consistency," Colvin said. "All you have to do is string together four games of consistent ball and you have a chance."
The Lakers come into the District 16 tournament with a 17-13 record. Lake Land has already clinched its first winning season since 2013-14 when the Lakers went 22-9.
Lake Land is suffering through another slide coming into Monday's game. The Lakers come into the District 16 tournament after losing four of their last five games. But Colvin is more encouraged about his team now than he was about a month ago because he felt his team played better in losses to Vincennes and Olney Central College the past two games.
"I think defensively we've found our stride for the most part," Colvin said. "It's now fixing the 5 to 10 minutes where we don't play solid defense. Vincennes, I thought we defended well, we just needed a couple more stops."
The offense hasn't been much of a problem for Lake Land this season. The Lakers are 15th in the nation with 92.7 points per game. The defense has let the team down too many times this season, though. Lake Land is 195th in the nation with 86.1 points allowed per game. Part of that is because of how the Lakers play. The fast-paced offensive style leads to more possessions for opponents, but the team still needs to be more consistent defensively in order to make a deeper run in the District 16 tournament.
"I think the key is, the offense has been consistent, but when you have a 4- or 5-minute lull on offense, you have to get stops on the other end. That's one of our biggest issues," Colvin said. "With the way we play, there are 10 to 15 extras possessions for the other team and points are going to go up no matter what."
Josh Jefferson scores a team-high 22.8 points per game for Lake Land to go along with 2.0 steals per game. Amel Kuljuhovic is averaging 14.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game, and Josh Robinson is averaging 13.6 points and 4.7 assists per game. Kevin Williams is averaging 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
It's the third time Lake Land faces Lincoln Trail this season with the Lakers winning both meetings. In the first game on Jan. 6, Lake Land had a 4-point lead at halftime before pulling away in the second half for an 80-68 win. The second game was on Feb. 14 and Lake Land won 88-72. Lincoln Trail stayed with Lake Land throughout the game before the Lakers pulled away for the 16-point win.
Lincoln Trail is the No. 10 seed in the District 16 tournament, and LTC is 9-20 on the season. Colvin isn't taking LTC lightly.
"I feel confident, but beating a team three times isn't easy," Colvin said. "Those wins weren't easy. They are in the same mode as us, they are hoping to string together a few games. Beating a team three times is always tough."
Kendall Jones is averaging 10.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for LTC.