QUINCY -- It became as visible as ever Sunday afternoon, but Cory Miller Jr. believes the defensive effort carrying the John Wood Community College men's basketball team to the national tournament has been building to a crescendo.
"We're peaking when we want to," the sophomore guard said.
That makes the Trail Blazers dangerous once they reach Danville.
John Wood earned a spot in the NJCAA Division II national tournament field for the third time in the last six seasons by locking down sixth-ranked Parkland in the Region 24 championship game. The Cobras shot just 27.3 percent from the field in the first half of an 81-64 loss and went 0 of 10 from 3-point range.
Overall, Parkland shot 35.2 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from 3-point range, marking the fourth straight game in which JWCC held its opponents to less than 40 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent from 3-point range.
"Defense is about toughness, and our guys and pretty tough," JWCC coach Brad Hoyt said. "They're sticking to what we want to accomplish defensively and imposing their will in that sense. They're making things uncomfortable for whoever we play."
That started with back-to-back lockdown efforts against Danville.
In the regular-season finale, the Trail Blazers held the Jaguars to 20 percent shooting from 3-point range in a 20-point victory. In the quarterfinals of the Region 24 Tournament, Danville shot just 14.3 percent from 3-point range in a 17-point loss.
It carried over against Rend Lake as the Warriors went 2 of 11 from 3-point range in the first half of the Trail Blazers' 85-74 semifinal victory.
"Everybody was engaged," sophomore guard Gentry Whiteman said. "We know a good defensive effort fuels our offense."
A great one put Parkland away early.
The Cobras made just 10 shots in the first half Sunday, finished the game with only five assists and never found the rhythm necessary to overcome an 18-point halftime deficit.
"A lot of our defensive pressure and just us being in the right spots at the right times got to them," Whiteman said. "They got a little shook and didn't know what to do next."
Taking away the Cobras' ability to attack with dribble penetration off ball screens limited their effectiveness.
"They called a timeout and you could just tell their ball-handlers didn't know what to do coming off ball screens," Whiteman said. "That's a big part of their offense. We worked on that and prepared for that, and it paid off. We were able to shake them up, and they weren't sure what the next move should have been."
The Trail Blazers don't have that worry. Their next move is preparing for the national tournament, which begins next Tuesday at Mary Miller Gym on the Danville Area Community College campus.
"Our defense gives us a chance," Miller said. "I think you can see that."