By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Michael Roy slapped the floor twice in frustration.
Trailing by four points with one minute remaining, the John Wood Community College men's basketball team's 5-foot-8 point guard made the right play.
It just didn't turn out how he hoped.
A bad bounce left Roy lying on the floor, watching helplessly as the basketball rolled out of bounds. Roy knocked the ball away from Rend Lake College guard Trice Whaley at midcourt, but he didn't control it cleanly and lost the handle.
Possession went back to the Warriors and top-seeded Rend Lake buried the third-seeded Trail Blazers. Dawson Verhines made a 3-pointer on that possession to push the Warriors' lead to seven and seal an 86-78 win in the NJCAA Division II Region 24 title game Sunday at the Student Activity Center.
With the championship, Rend Lake (26-3) earns its second straight trip to the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.
"I thought the possession was over," Roy said. "I thought it went out of bounds by the time I dove for the ball. Watching it go away, it just felt like I gave up on the play. Then again, it was a good hustle play for me to put my body in for the team."
Watching Roy's frustration was tough for 6-foot-7 freshman Raviel Burton, who would've been in good position to score.
"It was hard because he made a good play and I was trailing," said Burton, who finished with nine points and four rebounds. "There (was nothing between) me and the rim. To see the ball go out of bounds was heartbreaking."
JWCC, which was making its first appearance in a region title game since 1996, didn't catch many breaks in the second half. The Trail Blazers (22-10) went into halftime with a 27-26 lead, but couldn't stop the Warriors' perimeter game.
Rend Lake shot 63 percent (12 of 19) from beyond the arc. Every time the Warriors needed a bucket, Verhines, who finished with 26 points and made six 3-pointers, or Jeril Taylor, who finished with 18 points and three treys, would step up.
Taylor's biggest 3-pointer came with 6:52 remaining after Burton stole the ball and threw down a two-handed dunk to cut the lead to 59-56. On the next possession, Taylor drilled an outside shot with Burton in his face to extend the lead to six points.
"Swings like that, you have to shake your head a little bit," JWCC coach Brad Hoyt said. "There were a few times, where we would miss a shot and they came down and made a contested three. It comes down to a possession or two. I thought we fought hard and played tough all weekend long to put ourselves in position to do something we haven't done in awhile."
Exploiting matchups was key for Rend Lake. With JWCC playing much of the second half without 6-6 sophomore forward A'Darius Porter, who went out with knee injury, the Warriors wanted the 6-4 Taylor to get outside shots when Burton guarded him. When the Trail Blazers countered with 5-8 guard Jon White, Rend Lake had Taylor post up.
"I'm not the smartest guy," Warriors coach Randy House said. "But I know when the guy guarding you is a head smaller than you, it gives you a window to get some looks. We did a good job of that in the second half."
JWCC stayed in the game with a balanced scoring effort. Brad Hamilton scored a team-high 17 points, while White added 15 points and T.J. Tisdell Jr. had 12.
Rend Lake went ahead 42-41 with 13:54 left on a jumper by Montez Buford and never trailed again.
It was the start of a 13-2 run that allowed the Warriors to stretch their lead to 53-43 with 10:14 remaining. White and Roy both got to the rim at will after that to help JWCC got the lead down to 59-56 on Burton's dunk with 7:30 remaining.
"I felt like their defensive transition wasn't as good as our offensive transition," said Roy, who finished with eight points and six assists. "They relaxed more on defense rather than offense. With us getting it up as quickly as possible, it gave us a better chance to attack them."