ST. LOUIS — The growing pains of the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm continued Sunday at the St. Louis Community College Shootout.
Three Rivers College sophomore Eli Sample made two free throws with 1:12 left in overtime and the Raiders held off the Blue Storm during a wild and weird final minute for a 72-71 victory.
Sample's free throws gave Three Rivers a 72-69 lead, but Blue Storm freshman Vashawn Ruffin hit a running jumper with 52 seconds left, closing the gap to one point.
SWIC, which trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half only to send the game into overtime when Brandon Book hit a 3-pointer at the end of regulation, then got the ball back with 17 seconds left following a miss by the Raiders.
After getting the ball into the front court, Ruffin dribbled the ball a couple of steps beyond the top of the key with time running down.
Finally with 2.4 seconds left, Ruffin fired a shot which fell well short as the buzzer went off.
"It's a tough situation. If (sophomore) Jaquail (Townser) had been in the game, he would have heard me giving verbal instructions. Vashawn didn't hear me,'' Blue Storm coach Jay Harrington said. "Put this one (loss) on me."
Overtime looked like the last thing that would happen in this matchup of St. Louis area junior college powers as the Blue Storm struggled through a miserable first half.
SWIC, coming off a 20-point loss at Rend Lake College earlier in the week, made just 4 of its first 22 shots from the floor and finished the first-half shooting just 21 percent (6 of 28). The Blue Storm would go into halftime trailing 28-16.
When Sample and pesky guard Jared White scored in the opening minute of the second half, the Raiders (9-2) had a 16-point lead.
But the Blue Storm (7-3) battled back.
"I don't what it is about the first half of games. The other night at Rend Lake we start off 1-of-15 and then tonight we start out 4-of-22. I think some of it might have to do with our youth,'' Harrington said. "But we've had guys out of the lineup with injuries who just haven't played much and our system is a pretty complex one.
"They don't know where they are supposed to be in some situations.''
The Blue Storm comeback was fueled in a large part by freshmen Dominic Page, Marquis Borney and Falando Wilkinson.
Page was impressive. The 6-foot, 6-inch Fayetteville, N.C. native connected on 8-of-9 shots and led SWIC with 16 points. Wilkinson hit a pair of 3s and Borney, a former Madison standout, provided a spark off the bench while also adding five points.
But it was Book, a Central graduate, who tied the game at 65 with a 3 from well beyond the arc at the end of regulation.
SWIC, which also finished with 26 turnovers, never led after regulation, as White, who made 13-of-15 from the foul line and finished with 15 points, made two free throws to start overtime.
Book and Wilkinson added 11 points apiece for SWIC.