INA — It was nearly eight years ago when the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm staged a comeback for the ages in beating Southeastern Illinois College for the Region 24 title.
On Thursday with not quite as much at stake, the 2013-14 version of the Blue Storm staged the sequel.
Freshman Falando Wilkinson scored 20 of his 23 points in the second half to help cap a memorable comeback as SWIC rallied from an early 22-point deficit to defeat Shawnee College 80-71 in a first round game at the NJCAA Region 24 Basketball Tournament at Rend Lake College.
The fourth-seeded Blue Storm was just plain awful in the first 11 minutes. Committing seven turnovers and scoring just five points, SWIC trailed 27-5 with 9:19 left in the opening half following a short jumper by the Saints' Jaylon Smith.
But led by sophomore Brandon Book, the Blue Storm outscored Shawnee 19-7 the rest of the half to cut the deficit to 35-24.
When Wilkinson opened the second half with a 3-point basket and a 12-foot jumper, the Blue Storm was off and running again.
"It was just one of those things where they (Shawnee) just didn't miss and we just really struggled early. We just needed to keep our poise,'' Blue Storm coach Jay Harrington said. "I didn't yell at them at halftime. I just told them about the team in '06 that trailed Southeastern by 26 points in the region championship game at halftime and came back and won.
"That team went on to place sixth at the national tournament.''
Trailing by only six points, the Blue Storm continued its comeback and when Book nailed a 3-point jumper with 15:13 remaining, SWIC had its first lead of the game, 2-41.
The Blue Storm would not trail again.
"I think it was a case us being nervous early in the game and them not doing anything wrong or missing many shots,'' sophomore co-captain Jaquail Townser said. "We just had to weather the storm and keep our poise. It was good that we cut it (the deficit) to 11 points at halftime.
"Coach (Harrington) told us the story about the '06 team at halftime and we came out with a lot of momentum to start the second half.''
The win moves SWIC (19-12) into the tournament semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday where it will take on top-seeded Vincennes University.
Vincennes (29-2) defeated Wabash Valley 85-82 in the first quarterfinal on Thursday.
Shawnee ends its season at 18-10.
The Saints, who got 20 points from Justin Leo, tied the game at 44 on a basket by Smith, but Wilkinson hit a 3-point shot, Townser scored on a layup and Vashon Ruffin hit a free throw to give the Blue Storm a 50-44 lead.
Shawnee would get no closer then three points the rest of the game.
Several Blue Storm players got into the act in the second half as SWIC outscored the Saints 56-36.
Book, who added 19 points and sophomore point guard Michael Schmidt knocked down 3-point shots and post players Hunter Reine and Ekene Anachebe combined for nine points and continued to play good defense and hold their own on the backboards.
Meanwhile, Wilkinson continued to penetrate to the basket. Of his 20 second half points, nine came on free throws.
"Falando did a good job for us and I thought Michael (Schmidt) really played very well at the point guard spot,'' Harrington said.
"We've got a tough game with Vincennes. They beat us twice and they are a very good team, but they're beatable. One thing is for sure. It will be a war.''