It was “March Madness” at its best — junior college basketball style — on Wednesday at Rend Lake College.
Southwestern Illinois College sophomores Chris Galbreath and Quan Poindexter combined for 15 points in the final 10 minutes and the Blue Storm made just enough free throws down the stretch to defeat Olney Central 75-69 in the opening game of the NJCAA Region 24 Men’s Basketball Tournament on Wednesday at Rend Lake College.
Seeded eighth with a 10-19 record entering tournament play, the Blue Knights gave the top-seeded Blue Storm (26-5) all it wanted and then some. Led by sharp-shooting sophomore guard Steven Davis, Olney Central led for much of the first half and, despite falling behind 69-60 with under three minutes remaining, had a chance to tie the game in the final minute.
But trailing 72-69, freshman Gilwan Nelson’s 3-point shot was off the mark, all but ending any hopes Olney Central had of pulling off the upset win. Poindexter and Galbreath combined to make three free throws in the closing seconds and move the Blue Storm into a semifinal round game on Thursday.
“I told you that the opening game is always the toughest one. I’ve seen it happen a few times when the top-seed comes into this game and gets beat. It was fortunate for us that our defense was very good late in the game and we’re moving on to play tomorrow (Thursday),’’ a relieved SWIC coach Jay Harrington said. “Chris Galbreath was a beast inside and Dorian (Butler) played great the second half. We didn’t do a very good job of shooting free throws though.”
The win moves SWIC into the Region 24 semifinals on Thursday at 6 p.m. where it will take on either fourth-seeded Lincoln Trail College or fifth-seeded Shawnee College.
With the 6-foot-2 Davis and Cale Hall combining for four of the Blue Knights seven 3-point field goals in the first half, Olney Central trailed just 34-31 at intermission. But Davis was just beginning. One of the top guards in Region 24, Davis scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half to almost keep his team in the game by himself.
But SWIC had just enough offense to offset the brilliance of Davis.
With SWIC sophomore standout DeAntae McMurray slowed in midway in the second half with an injury, Poindexter, Butler and Galbreath took over in the final eight minutes of the game.
After Davis made his fifth 3-point basket of the game to tie the game at 51 with just eight minutes left, Poindexter and Galbreath both scored inside and following a free throw by Olney’s Jake Treadway, Butler hit a 3-point jumper with 7:05 left to put SWIC up 58-52.
The lead would grow to 69-60 with under three minutes left following a steal and layup by Poindexter. But again, Davis and the Blue Knights wouldn’t go away,
Trailing 70-64 with 1:34 left following a pair of free throws by Davis, Olney Central got within three points when Hall hit an off-balance 25-foot jumper. Also fouled on the play, Hall missed his chance at a rare four-point play and SWIC maintained its 70-67 lead with 56 seconds remaining.
Galbreath led SWIC with 19 points, while Poindexter and Butler added 12 each. McMurray scored 10 points and sophomore Bo Burkhart added nine for SWIC. Harrington did not know the extent of McMurray’s injury. A contender for Region 24 player of the year, McMurray was limping throughout the final 10 minutes and came out of the game three times twice in the final seven minutes of the game.
“He’s hurting,” Harrington said of McMurray. “It’s his knee. He wasn’t able to move well and he said the knee felt very weak.’’