INA — On a night when his team needed him most, one of the wounded soldiers of the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm stepped up Thursday at Rend Lake College.
Playing with a severely sprained right ankle, sophomore Trae Anderson came off the bench to score 10 points in the final 11 minutes as the Blue Storm rallied for a 63-49 win over Olney Central in the semifinals of the NJCAA Region 24 Tournament.
With Olney Central leading by nine points with 11 minutes and 12 seconds remaining, Anderson entered the game and provided a quick spark.
Following baskets by Jaquail Townser and Tony Bradley, Anderson hit a 10-foot jumper from the lane to bring SWIC to within 45-42.
That was only the start for the Blue Storm, which went on a 15-2 run to take the lead for good.
"My ankle was hurting me a lot, but my team needed me,'' Anderson said. "I wasn't worried when we were down nine points in the second half. We have always been a second-half team this season.''
With the win, SWIC (22-10) moves into the title game at 7 p.m. Friday against top-seeded Vincennes.
The Trailblazers (30-2) defeated fourth-seeded Wabash Valley 76-55 in the other semifinal.
The Region 24 champion advances to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament on March 18-23 in Hutchinson, Kan.
Olney Central ends its season at 21-12.
Sophomore Tony Bradley paced SWIC with 15 points, while Townser added 12 to go along with 10 from Anderson.
The title game berth is the first since 2009 for SWIC, which advanced to the national finals in the same year.
The Blue Storm, which advanced into the semifinals with a 71-43 win over Southeastern Illinois College on Wednesday, looked sharp early.
Holding a 12-11 lead following a basket by freshman Darryl Milburn, SWIC took advantage of a pair of Blue Knights turnovers to take their biggest lead of the first half.
Keanu Post scored on an offensive rebound and when former Belleville West standout Dylan Chatman canned a 3-pointer, the Blue Storm led 17-11 with 10:35 left in the first half.
Chatman's basket proved to be the final highlight of the opening 20 minutes for SWIC, which committed six turnovers and had just seven points the rest of the half.
Olney Central scored eight of the next 10 points, and when sophomore John Brown nailed the second of his short jumpers, the Blue Knights led 21-19 with five minutes remaining.
Brown scored again with 2:30 left to make the score 25-19. But Milburn and Post scored late to pull SWIC to within 28-24 at half.