EAST PEORIA, Ill. -- The reaction said it all.
On the John Wood Community College men's basketball team's first possession of Sunday's Region 24 Tournament championship game, the Trail Blazers swung the ball to Cory Miller Jr. in the left corner. He elevated and buried a 3-pointer, celebrating with a full-armed fist pump.
"The past couple of games, I've struggle from three," Miller said. "To see that first one go in really set the tone for the whole team, to be honest."
When he made another trey from nearly the same exact spot on the next possession, the Trail Blazers had all the momentum they would need.
"We came out ready to go, probably the most ready we've been all year," Miller said.
Nothing Parkland did could change that.
The third-seeded Trail Blazers built an 18-point lead by halftime, withstood a couple of limited runs by the top-seeded Cobras in the second half and finished off their third region championship in the last six seasons with an 81-64 victory at Illinois Central College's Ramsey Gym.
With the victory, JWCC (19-13) earns a bid to the NJCAA Division II national tournament, which begins March 19 at Mary Miller Gym in Danville.
"Golly, it's such a hard thing to do," JWCC coach Brad Hoyt said. "For these guys to be able to experience a national tournament is probably what I'm most proud of."
Having narrowly missed out last season and rebounding from that added to the satisfaction.
JWCC led Danville by five points at halftime in last year's region championship, but scored just 17 points in the second half of what ended up being a six-point loss.
This time around, there was no second-half funk. The Trail Blazers scored 39 points and shot 57.8 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes to finish off the Cobras.
"It feels so good," Miller said. "To be so close last year and to capitalize on it this year, it feels so great."
While the offense got off to a blazing start, it was the defense that made it possible.
The Trail Blazers limited the Cobras to 27.8 percent shooting from the field in the first half as they went 0 of 10 from 3-point range.
"I thought our guys were as tough defensively as we've been all year, and we've had some moments where we've been pretty good on that side," Hoyt said. "I thought we really, really guarded. I thought we competed. We showed some resiliency when they went on their runs, and we kind of answered those things.
"It goes back to the toughness thing, and I thought our guys were pretty tough."
It permeated into everything the Trail Blazers did. They owned an edge on the boards, getting six rebounds apiece from Miller, Chandler Bevans and Justin Bottorff. They had 17 assists on 28 field goals and made 9 of 16 3-pointers.
Miller led the charge with 31 points, going 9 of 10 from the field, while Gentry Whiteman went 5 of 9 from 3-point range and finished with 18 points. Bevans started in place of injured sophomore swingman Eric Easter and had 18 points.
"We got Cory free early, and he was pretty assertive from the tip," Hoyt said. "Obviously, we're better offensively when he gets going early. But by him getting started, it gave some of those other guys more opportunities. When we get all of those guys involved, I like to think we're a pretty tough out."
Region 24 Tournament
John Wood 81, Parkland 64
JOHN WOOD (19-13)
Rumbo 1-1 0-0 3, Whiteman 5-9 3-3 18, Jackson 1-2 0-0 3, Cramsey 1-1 0-0 2, Morrison 0-0 0-0 0, Miller 9-10 11-14 31, Bevans 9-17 0-2 18, Bottorff 0-2 2-2 2, Jefferson 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 28-44 16-21 81.
Rose 9-21 0-1 19, Trimble 3-8 0-0 8, Makabu 0-2 0-0 0, Coleman 0-1 2-3 2, Jeffries 0-2 0-0 0, Bellinger 2-6 0-0 4, Campbell 1-4 0-0 2, Walter 3-5 0-0 6, Ja. Coleman 1-1 0-0 2, Emmanuel 3-6 -0-0 6, Williams 3-12 6-7 13, Saracco 0-3 2-2 2. Totals 25-71 10-13 64.
Halftime score--JWCC 42, Parkland 24. 3-point field goals--JWCC 9-16 (Whiteman 5-9, Miller 2-2, Jackson 1-2, Rumbo 1-1, Bevans 0-1, Bottorff 0-1), Parkland 4-19 (Trimble 2-6, Rose 1-4, Williams 1-4, Bellinger 0-3, Makabu 0-1, Jeffries 0-1). Rebounds--JWCC 35 (Miller, Bevans, Bottorff 6), Parkland 33 (Ja. Coleman 6). Assists--JWCC 17 (Whiteman, Cramsey 4), Parkland 5 (Trimble 3). Steals--JWCC 1 (Miller), Parkalnd 4 (Rose, Bellinger, Campbell, Williams). Blocked shots--JWCC 2 (Jefferson 2), Parkland 2 (Bellinger, Saracco). Turnovers--JWCC 13, Parkland 6. Fouls--JWCC 14, Parkland 16. Fouled out--Jefferson.