BELLEVILLE — The home-court advantage continues to be a thing of the past for the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm.
Rend Lake College freshmen Trice Whaley and Cortez Macklin combined for 15 points in the final eight minutes as the Warriors rallied for an 82-77 win Saturday in a battle for first place in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference.
SWIC (17-6), which led by as many as eight points in the second half before faltering late, trailed just 76-74 following a pair of free throws by freshman Brandon Book with 2 minutes 8 seconds left in the game.
But Whaley and former East St. Louis player Montez Williams scored in the final minute and when Whaley hit one of two free throws with under 20 seconds left, the Warriors, an NJCAA Division II school, were in first place in the GRAC with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
Rend Lake (9-2 GRAC) holds a half-game lead over SWIC (9-3). The loss is the Blue Storm's fourth on its home court this season and is the latest in a series of narrow setbacks. SWIC's six losses have come by a combined 19 points.
"That's just a 3-point basket a game. It's heartbreaking and it's sickening,'' Blue Storm coach Jay Harrington said. "The bad thing about is that the kids haven't played hard. I don't understand it. I just don't understand it.
"The difference in the game was that we made bad decisions. It's that simple. In the second half, we're up by eight points and a kid makes a bad pass. Another time we're up by eight again and we come down and throw up a 30-foot jumper. It was just very bad decision making at crucial times in the game.''
Coming off a last-second one-point win at John A. Logan College on Wednesday, SWIC started quickly in both halves against the Warriors.
With Brandon Book and Trae Anderson both hitting a pair of 3-point shots, the Blue Storm built a 21-10 lead just seven minutes into the game.
But behind 10 points from Jeril Taylor, Rend Lake outscored SWIC 32-13 the final 11 minutes of the half and led 42-36 at the break.
University of Missouri recruit Keanu Post then scored 10 of his 19 points in the opening eight minutes of the second half as SWIC, controlling the tempo, regained command with a 13-0 run.
A basket by sophomore Tony Bradley gave SWIC a 54-46 lead with 13 minutes left in the game. But the Blue Storm couldn't sustain its momentum.
JaQuail Townser led SWIC with 21 points, while Post (19 points), Luke Norman (12) and Book (11) were also in double figures.
SWIC 70, Rend Lake 54
The Blue Storm held the Warriors scoreless for a 12-minute span in the first half and romped to a convincing win.
SWIC (16-4, 10-3 GRAC) trailed 5-2 two minutes into the game, but didn't allow Rend Lake to score again until just over seven minutes remained in the opening half.
By that time, SWIC held a 24-7 lead and were never threatened as all-American Janelle Cannon scored 27 points to lead the way.
The win lifts SWIC into a tie for the lead with Wabash Valley in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference.
"I thought we played well on the defensive end. Rend Lake beat us down there and for us to hold them scoreless for 12 minutes shows what we can do when we concentrate and focus on the defensive end of the court,'' Blue Storm coach Mike Juenger said. "I thought we got a little lackadaisical there late in the second half. But I'm pleased with how we played. It's a big win for us against a good team.
Sophomore Danielle Duncan added 14 points and Brianna Baker chipped in with 10.
Former Nashville standout Jennifer Moeller led Rend Lake with 19 points.