ST. LOUIS — With a pair of early one-point losses still fresh in its mind, the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm avoided a three-peat Sunday at the St. Louis Community College JUCO Shootout.
But just barely.
Freshman Brandon Book led a balanced attack with 21 points and the Blue Storm withstood a late meltdown to hang on for a 65-64 win over Three Rivers College, from Poplar Bluff, Mo.
SWIC (8-2), whose only losses of the season were a pair of one-point setbacks against Mineral Area College, built a 14-point lead early in the second half and still led by nine with just over eight minutes remaining.
But a dismal 9-of-25 effort from the free-throw line and an inability to solve the Raiders' physical full-court pressure allowed Three Rivers to rally and nearly win in the final seconds.
It wasn't until Ayinde Sprewell's 18-foot jumper with two seconds left bounced off the rim that SWIC coach Jay Harrington and his team could give a sigh of relief.
"I thought we played very well for the first 30 minutes of the game. It's just that the game is called (officiated) differently in Missouri, in that the referees tend to let it go more. It's a much more physical game,'' Harrington said. "Plus, Three Rivers was 7-3 coming into here and they're coached by Gene Bess, so you know they're a good basketball team.''
With Book, a Central graduate, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and scoring 10 points, SWIC led 28-22 at halftime.
Keanau Post, a 6-foot-11 center with numerous NCAA Division I coaches and scouts watching his every move, added six points for SWIC in the first 20 minutes.
An 8-0 Blue Storm run in the opening 75 seconds of the second half expanded its lead to 36-22.
But Three Rivers refused to go away.
Brandon Strickland scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half, and Ibrahim Djambo tallied nine of his 11 after the break, allowing the Raiders to pull within striking distance.
SWIC didn't help itself either. The Blue Storm missed the front end of the one-and-one five times in the second half.
On three of those occasions, Three Rivers responded with baskets to cut into the lead.
"If we make half those free throws it doesn't come down to the end. And normally we're a pretty good free throw shooting team,'' Harrington said. "We're 8-2 now, and if we can finish the first half of the season at 9-2, that's pretty good. But we're still two points away from being 11-0.''
Sophomore Tony Bradley added 12 points for the Blue Storm, while Post and Trae Anderson chipped in with 11 apiece.