Trail Blazers set stage for conference play by hitting target with victory over Archers
QUINCY — In essence, conference play arrived a week early.
Because of it, the John Wood Community College men’s basketball team may just be ready for its second season after all.
The Trail Blazers built a 15-point lead midway through the second half Wednesday night, only to see St. Louis Community College chisel the deficit to seven points twice in the final three minutes and draw as close as four points with 10 seconds remaining.
JWCC made 9 of 10 free throws in the final 90 seconds to hold SLCC at bay, finishing off a 72-66 victory at the Student Activity Center for its first victory of 2023.
“Now, we have a week to practice, and like (JWCC coach Brad Hoyt) just said in the locker room, he’s going to try his best over the next week to get us where we need to be for conference play,” JWCC sophomore Nolton Klingele said. “He said we’re going to work for the next week figuring out how we’re going to do it for how many conference games we have.
“It definitely helped us with our mentality and getting into the next week of working.”
The Trail Blazers take a 10-8 overall record into Mid-West Athletic Conference play, which begins next Wednesday with a home game against Spoon River. Ten of JWCC’s final 12 games on the schedule are conference games.
Had the Trail Blazers gone into MWAC play winless in 2023 — they dropped games to nationally ranked foes in Des Moines Area Community College and Southeastern Community College since returning from Christmas break — it may have felt like they were stumbling forward.
Now, there’s a sense of momentum and purpose.
“This was a much-needed win,” said sophomore point guard Darrius Bolden, who hit 5 of 6 free throws in the closing stretch and finished with eight points and five assists. “Going into conference play, we can build off this game because we did a lot of things good. But also, there are things we need to work on.”
The foot-on-the-throat mentality is one of those.
JWCC owned a 57-42 lead with 8:18 to play, but St. Louis Community College kept grinding. Jameal Goines’ putback with 3:13 remaining trimmed the Archers’ deficit to eight, and James Ross’ 3-pointer made it a seven-point game with less than three minutes to play.
Each time the Archers seemed to grab momentum, though, the Trail Blazers attacked and got to the free-throw line. It started with Jeremiah Talton knocking down two with 1:36 to go. Jenson Whiteman drained a pair of free throws in the stretch, too.
Bolden shot his free throws with similar confidence.
“I like getting to the free-throw line at the end of the game because I know they really, really matter,” Bolden said. “I know I can’t miss them.”
Better yet, the Trail Blazers didn’t let the Archers’ final flurry put them on their heels.
“We needed to stay poised and composed and not let them speed us up,” Bolden said. “We had to play smart.”
Whiteman led the Trail Blazers with 14 points, while Talton had 13 and five others scored six or more points.
“This definitely builds confidence,” Talton said. “As young as we are, maturing as we go through the year is key, and this will help us down the road.”
The road leads to the postseason now that MWAC play has arrived.
“This is what the next six weeks are going to look like and feel like,” Hoyt said. “I thought we grinded and got the job done, but I told them in the locker room, I’m going to spend the next week trying to figure out a way to make it easier for them. I’m going to do all I can to make sure we’re ready for conference play.”
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