MATTOON -- One of the youngest Lake Land women’s basketball teams ever has exceled d in its defensive play as they are fifth in the nation in points allowed at just 53.1.
The 2019-20 Lady Lakers have three sophomores and 12 freshmen on the team that is 30-3 and headed to the NJCAA Division II National Tournament Sunday. Lake Land begins play at 10 a.m. central at the SC4 Fieldhouse in Port Huron, Mi on the campus of St. Clair Community College.
"Two years ago we had four sophomores and one of them was a starter," said Lake Land coach Dave Johnson who started one sophomore and four freshmen in a trilling 80-75 overtime win over Illinois Central College in the region 24 championship game Sunday. "That team made it to the regional championship that year (lost to ICC 64-53). it is probably the second time we have been this young."
With that many players coming into the season what did Johnson think as far as expectations?
"I thought we would be pretty good," said Johnson. "You just never know how kids are going to react to the change in the game with it being a little more faster and a little more physical. These girls have adapted really well. It is a very talented group. It is a very defensive minded group, which I think has made a big difference for us this year."
The defense has been relentless allowing just 53.1 points per game, which is fifth in the nation. Last year's team was 17th at 57 points. The 2013-14 team was 11th at 54.7.
"The big thing for me is to defend the last 21 feet of the court as well as you can," said Johnson, who plays man-to-man defense mainly. "That has always been my philosophy. If they can score form outside of 21 feet consistently then they are a really good team."
One reason the defense has allowed so few points is that the Lady Lakers are sixth in three-point percentage in the nation. Lake Land holds their opponents to 23.7 percent.
The Lady Lakers force 19 turnovers per game.
"We are a 95 percent man-to-man team this year and there are three things on what makes our defense good," said Johnson. "I think just the awareness of not giving up good looks to good shooters helps us and our help side has been really good this year. The third thing is that we are not turning the ball over (average 13.2, which is 18th lowest in the nation)."
It was in the first week of the season that Johnson thought this team might be pretty good.
"We didn't play very well in our first game," said Johnson. "We beat Triton by only a few points (66-63), but then came out and won by 43 points against a team that went to the nationals last year in Moraine Valley (85-42). It kind of gave me an idea that we have a chance to be pretty good."
Lake Land, who won its first nine games before falling to NJCAA Division I perennial power Wabash Valley (a team that is in the national tournament) 80-75 on Dec. 11. A week later the Lady Lakers, downed Parkland 77-50.
"When we beat Parkland at Parkland the way we did that is when I thought we have a chance," said Johnson. "That is not an easy place to play and they are a really good team usually. So that was a big confidence booster for us."
Lake Land went on to win four more games in a row, including a 70-53 win over Kankakee, a team that is also going to the national tournament. On. Jan. 4 the Lady Lakers had their six-game winning streak come to an end and lost their only Region 24 game of the season, 66-65 to Lincoln Land. Lake Land downed Kankakee again. This time it was 77-32 as they embarked on a seven-game winning streak before falling to Wabash Valley again, 67-54.
The current eight-game winning streak began with a 84-45 win over John A. Logan.
The Lady Lakers have not allowed more than 65 points in five games.
"We are pretty versatile in our skill sets," said Johnson when asked how he would describe his team. "We don't have anyone that I would say is 6-0 that is super athletic, but we have a lot of kids between 5-6 and 5-9 that are very athletic. They (the team) can do a lot of different things. They can play different positions. They can guard different positions. Guarding different positions is the most important thing. If we don't have height we have to be able to guard different positions."
Lake Land is also a deep team as nine of the 15 have played in all 33 games or at least all but one.
"We play a lot of different kids in a lot of different situations," said Johnson. "So, I am confident in that as well."
Mike Monahan's memorable stories from 2019
Check out JG-TC reporter Mike Monahan's most memorable stories from the last year.
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Contact Mike Monahan at (217)-238-6854. Follow him on Twitter: @monahanmikejgtc
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