Southwestern Illinois College men’s basketball coach Jay Harrington captured another plaque on Friday at the NJCAA Region 24 Tournament. It just wasn’t the one the Blue Storm’s NJCAA Hall of Fame Coach wanted.
Minutes after SWIC ended its season by losing to Vincennes University 75-67 in the title game of the Region 24 Tournament, Harrington was named as the Region 24 Coach of the Year for a record 10th time. The Blue Storm (27-6) won both the Region 24 regular season title and top-seed for the tournament and the Great Rivers Athletic Conference championship.
But after beating Vincennes, annually one of the top JUCO programs in the nation, twice during the regular season, the Blue Storm saw a seven-point lead cut to one at halftime, then watched as Vincennes rallied in the second half to secure the Region 24 National title bid.
“It’s a great honor to be named Region 24 Coach of the Year. We had a tremendous year and a great and fun group of kids of which to work. But is also a bittersweet honor because to work so hard all season and then come up one game short, that’s tough,’’ Harrington said. “Give Vincennes credit. I guess they wanted it more then we did after we had beaten them twice during the season.”
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The 2015-16 season was Harrington’s 36th as a head coach. He has won nine of his Region 24 Coach of the Year honors as the head coach at SWIC, with the other one coming at Wabash Valley College. Harrington has also won the District 4 Coach of the Year, an honor which includes the entire state.
Vincennes advances to the NCJAA National Tournament which begins on March 13 in Hutchinson, Ks. The Blue Storm, which was ranked 21st in the nation and 19th in the Massey Ratings, a poll which includes over 700 junior college programs in nation in every division.
Yet when the four at large berths to the national tournament were awarded on Sunday, the Blue Storm was left out.
“We felt we were deserving of an at large bid. Vincennes coach (Todd) Franklin did what he could help us get one and even though we won our conference, won our regular season championship and won 27 games, we were left out when teams who didn’t win a title and were ranked below us, got in,’’ Harrington said. “There were four teams from the state of Texas which got in.”
“It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing we can do except get on the road and reload for next year.’’
Three Blue Storm players — Drake University recruit De’Antae McMurray, Chris Galbreath and Quan Poindexter — were named to the all-Region 24 team.