DANVILLE, Ill. -- The consensus among the John Wood Community College men's basketball players and coaches was Wednesday's defensive effort wasn't necessarily good, just good enough.
That's all it had to be.
The Trail Blazers held St. Clair County (Mich.) scoreless the final four minutes of the first half and to just two points in the final two minutes of regulation, squeezing out a 71-65 victory in the opening round of the NJCAA Division II national tournament at the Mary Miller Complex.
"I probably aged a couple of years because I thought defensively we weren't as good as I thought we should have been," JWCC coach Brady Hoyt said. "We've set a high standard for ourselves defensively. At the end of the day, when it mattered most, we got the stops we needed.
"That's all that really matters. We were good enough to give ourselves a chance."
The stats suggest the Trail Blazers were better than that.
They held the Skippers 19 points below their season scoring average. St. Clair County shot just 26.7 percent from 3-point range and committed 20 turnovers, leading to 24 points for JWCC.
"If we play our defense, we have built-in help," JWCC sophomore guard Cory Miller Jr. said. "Offensively, we know it will come. You've got to get it started on the defensive end."
That will be the case in the quarterfinals when 11th-seeded JWCC (20-13) faces 14th-seeded Cecil College of North East, Md. The Seahawks (22-11) upset third-seeded Pima (Ariz.) 81-72 on Tuesday, a game the Trail Blazers watched in person.
"They work hard and are very disciplined and hard-nosed," JWCC sophomore forward Eric Easter said. "They're tough guys. It's a matter of who's going to be tougher. I really think we are the tougher team, but we have to come out and play that way. We can't just talk about it."
Part of JWCC's toughness is showcased in its resiliency.
That was needed late in the first half Wednesday. An uneven first 15 minutes in which the Trail Blazers committed six turnovers but also scored 12 points in the paint had the Skippers leading 33-27.
Sparked by five straight points from Easter and back-to-back baskets by Miller, JWCC closed the half on a 9-0 run to take a 36-33 lead.
"I really thought we avoided them really pushing it out," Hoyt said. "They had some opportunities to do that, and luckily what we did was enough to avoid that."
It paid off when the Trail Blazers put another run together. A 10-1 spurt, culminating with Miller's up-and-under move for a layup, gave JWCC a 51-42 lead midway through the second half.
"We got away from getting the ball inside in the first half," said Miller, who had 20 points and nine rebounds. "We got it together in the second half."
The Skippers (27-7) did, too. Behind a 23-point effort from Derrick Johnson, St. Clair County rallied to tie the game twice in the final two minutes. But a steal by Whiteman, a defensive rebound by Miller and a charge drawn by Whiteman led to the Trail Blazers scoring the game's final six points.
"We got to our right positions, and that sort of gave us a chance to make plays," Hoyt said. "That's what we've been doing the last six weeks or so."
It's become a point of pride.
"We practice that," Whiteman said. "We work hard every day in practice all season long to get better at being in the right spots on defense. I don't even think that was one of best defensive efforts, but it was good enough to get the win. That's what we're looking for."
NJCAA Division II Tournament
John Wood 71, St. Clair County 65
Easter 5-7 3-5 13, Whiteman 4-15 3-4 13, Cramsey 0-4 1-2 1, Jefferson 3-5 0-0 6, Rumbo 2-6 0-0 6, Jackson 0-0 0-0 0, Bevans 4-10 0-0 8, Bottorff 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 25-62 16-23 71.
ST. CLAIR COUNTY (27-7)
Hill 1-5 0-0 2, Miller 3-10 2-4 10, Johnson 8-19 3-5 23, Ballard 3-3 0-0 6, Duncan 7-13 5-5 21, Hardy 0-1 1-2 1, Franklin 0-5 0-1 0, Vos 1-2 0-0 2, Baker 0-0 0-0 0, Hinkley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-58 11-17 65.
Halftime score--JWCC 36, St. Clair County 33. 3-point field goals--JWCC 5-20 (Whiteman 2-9, Rumbo 2-6, Miller 1-2, Cramsey 0-2, Bevans 0-1), St. Clair County 8-30 (Johnson 4-15, Miller 2-6, Duncan 2-2, Hill 0-3, Franklin 0-2, Hardy 0-1, Vos 0-1). Rebounds--JWCC 38 (Miller 9), St. Clair County 34 (Duncan 13). Assists--JWCC 11 (Cramsey 4), St. Clair County 12 (Hill 8). Steals--JWCC 5 (Whiteman 3), St. Clair County 7 (Joshson 2). Blocked shots--St. Clair County 2 (Duncan 2). Turnovers--JWCC 13, St. Clair County 20. Fouls--JWCC 13, St. Clair County 17. Fouled out--None.