EAST PEORIA, Ill. -- A knee injury forced Eric Easter to suit up for Sunday's Region 24 Tournament championship in sweatpants and a t-shirt, and it forced John Wood Community College men's basketball coach Brad Hoyt to alter his starting lineup.
Chandler Bevans made everything more bearable for both.
The 6-foot-7 freshman forward slid into Easter's spot in the starting rotation and produced another stellar effort, scoring 18 points and grabbing six rebounds to help the third-seeded Trail Blazers upend top-seeded Parkland 81-64 at Illinois Central College's Ramsey Gym.
"It's big-time for our program and our team," Bevans said of championship that brings with it a berth in the NJCAA Division II national tournament beginning March 19 in Danville. "It's a boost to our confidence, and it shows all the hard work we've been putting in the past eight months pays off."
Bevans, a Clark County product, scored just two points off the bench when the Trail Blazers (19-13) beat the Cobras at home two weeks ago. That didn't deter Hoyt from leaning on him.
"Chandler rose to the challenge," Hoyt said.
That was after missing his first field goal attempt.
"I think he airmailed it, which was completely understandable," Hoyt said. "He settled in and did what he does. I'm proud of his performance in such a situation."
Hoyt thought Bevans might have had a moment or two of nerves, but Bevans said he felt comfortable and confident.
"I haven't been starting, but I've been playing a lot," said Bevans, who averages 9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. "So I wasn't too nervous."
His teammates didn't sense any worry.
"We have confidence in him and we tell him we have confidence in him," sophomore guard Cory Miller Jr. said. "I think he understands that, and he's ready to play. He's just ready."
Bevans showed he's ready to deliver.
"We couldn't ask for a better performance out of him," Miller said.
Still, the starting spot will remain Easter's should he rebound the way Hoyt hopes. Easter will have the knee examined this week and eight days to rest and rehabilitate the injury before the national tournament tips.
"We need to do everything we can to get Eric back," Hoyt said. "He's a huge piece of who we are and a huge part of our heartbeat."