It was another day, another game and another — and new — hero on Saturday for the Southwestern Illinois College Blue Storm.
Sophomore guard Bo Burkhart made a pair of 3-point baskets to highlight a 15-4 scoring run late in the first half to give his team the lead and SWIC maintained its advantage the rest of the way as it went on for an 85-79 win over Rend Lake College.
The lone NJCAA Division II school in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference, Rend Lake shot the basketball well early. With guards Derek Novsek and Dedric Byrd combining for four 3-point baskets and 21 first half points, the Warriors led by nine points twice and held a 28-19 advantage with just under 10 minutes left in the first half.
But with Burkhart connecting on three 3-point shots and scoring 12 of his season-high 22 points in the final nine minutes of the first half SWIC (22-4) rallied.
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Kyle Lemons added four points off the bench during that stretch, which ended with SWIC leading 41-39 at halftime. Sophomores Chris Galbreath and Quan Poindexter then got into act in the second half, combining for 21 points as SWIC held off a late Rend Lake rally to run its winning streak to 15 games.
But two days after learning it had been ranked 23rd in the latest NJCAA Division I poll — the first time it had been in ranked in the top 25 since the 2012-13 season, SWIC was flat for most of the game.
“We had watched Rend Lake play in its last game and I don’t think they hit a 3-point shot all night. Today, it seemed like they couldn’t miss, especially early in the first half,” Blue Storm coach Jay Harrington said. “But we didn’t play well and yes, we were flat. Why? I don’t know, not a psychologist.
“I do know that the more you win, the bigger the bullseye becomes on your back. We’re a loose basketball team, sometimes too loose. I would just be happy if we would be more focused. That’s what I really want to see from this team.”
Trailing by as many as eight points in the second half, Rend Lake rallied to within 66-63 with 6:42 remaining in the game on two free throws by Cory Thomas.
But a 12-7 spurt over the next four minutes gave SWIC the breathing room it needed. Poindexter scored on an offensive rebound, DeAntae McMurray and former Freeburg player Justin Diecker combined to make three of four free throws and Burkhart scored on a short jumper as part of 7-2 run as the Blue Storm lead grew to 71-63.
Sophomore Dez Marshall added a 3-point jumper and Chris Galbreath added a basket after collecting an offensive rebound as SWIC maintained its lead.
Rend Lake would get no closer than four points the rest of the game.
Poindexter added 18 points for SWIC, while Galbreath chipped in with 14 points and McMurray scored 13 points for SWIC. But it was the 6-1 Burkhart who was the latest star of the day for the Blue Storm.
“It’s been that way all year. Every game we have someone else step up and play well,” Harrington said. “Against John A. Logan (College) it was DeAntae. Against Lincoln Trail it was Chris (Galbreath) and against Olney it was Quan (Poindexter). Today it was Bo. The kid just played his heart out today.’’
Dedric Byrd led Rend Lake with 18 points. Former Belleville West player Will Presson had nine points off the bench for the Warriors.