DANVILLE, Ill. -- The bump seemed innocent enough, but it could have hindered the John Wood Community College men's basketball team's national title pursuit in an utterly serious manner.
Gentry Whiteman wouldn't allow it.
With 7:45 remaining in regulation in Wednesday's opening round game of the NJCAA Division II national tournament, St. Clair County guard Tariq Hardy ran into Whiteman, the JWCC sophomore guard, as they headed upcourt after the Trail Blazers cleared a defensive rebound.
Whiteman tumbled to the floor, landing hard on his right knee. Moments later, in a scramble for a loose ball on the offensive, Whiteman hit the deck again and was slow to get up.
JWCC coach Brad Hoyt subbed out his 3-point specialist with 7:20 to go and the Trail Blazers up 55-51.
"I went down about a minute and a half later and said, ‘Hey, are you all right?'" Hoyt said. "He said, ‘I'm perfectly fine.' So I'm put him back in."
That was critical. Whiteman made two key defensive plays in the final 90 seconds as the Trail Blazers advanced to the quarterfinals with a 71-65 victory in which they scored the game's final six points.
"It was just a matter of getting up and getting moving," Whiteman said. "I knew I was going to be OK."
And he knows the value of defensive stops, especially late in close games.
"Everything is centered on defense," said Whiteman, who had a team-leading three steals to go with 13 points. "You have to make plays."
With the game tied at 65 and a little more than a minute to play, Whiteman stepped into a passing lane near the top of the key and intercepted a kickout pass from the baseline. He turned it into a fastbreak, feeding Cory Miller Jr. for the go-ahead layup.
Two possessions later, with the Trail Blazers up 69-65, Whiteman planted himself on the right block and took a charge when St. Clair County's Christopher Ballard grabbed an offensive rebound and leaned in for the putback with 8.6 seconds remaining.
Miller followed that with two free throws to ice the victory and send the Trail Blazers into the quarterfinals, where they will face Cecil (Md.) at 6 p.m. Thursday.
"Gentry is one who's not really known for plays on that end, but he's got really good hands," Hoyt said. "He gets his hands on a lot of balls in some really critical situations. In those circumstances, we talk a lot about your dudes have to be your dudes.
"Gentry and Cory really, really did some things to sort of keep them at bay."
Whiteman will have to do more of that, no matter how much that knee aches.
"It's something small, nothing to worry about," he said. "It will be fine tomorrow. Heck, it will be fine tonight. It's all good."