HUTCHINSON, KANSAS – Wallace State's men's basketball team flirted with a second-round upset over Vincennes (Ind.) University at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) tournament Wednesday afternoon, but was unable to manufacture one final push and fell to the second-seeded Trail Blazers 84-77 at the Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Wallace State, the No. 15 seed, scratched and clawed all game and wasn't as mismatched as the tournament seeds indicated.
The teams were tied at 50 with 12:13 left in the game after Wallace State's Jestin Lewis hit a jumper from the baseline. Vincennes responded with a 15-6 run over the next six minutes, and never allowed Wallace State to muster enough of a run to pull the upset.
"We had an opportunity to knock off a really good team. We just played in spurts and those spurts came at the wrong time. I thought Vincennes was the aggressor on both ends of the court, both early and late, and we just looked flat at times," said Wallace State coach John Meeks, making his second national tournament appearance with the Lions. "It takes a lot of energy to dig out of a hole like we did today and Monday night. We were able to take the lead in the second half, but we couldn't sustain it. Give credit to Vincennes. They are a well-coached ball club. They were the aggressor for the better part of 40 minutes."
Wallace State closes one of the program's best seasons at 28-7. The Lions were making their third national tournament appearance in five seasons and second under Meeks. Wallace State advanced to Hutch after winning both the Alabama Community College Conference regular season and conference tournament championships. Along the way, the Lions reeled off 14 wins in a row from Dec. 19 to Feb. 13.
"This team has done some remarkable things. To win the regular-season championship was huge and so was winning three games in three days on our home court to win the tournament. Then for us to come here on a national stage and not be intimated was important to me," said Meeks, who was named the ACCC Coach of the Year. "I'm not going to say we were glad to be here in Hutch because we expected to come here and be the last team standing."
Wallace State won its first-round game at the national tourney on Monday night with a captivating 101-99 double overtime victory over Westchester (N.Y.) CC. Like they did all season, Lewis and Lee Moore paved the way with 28 points apiece. Both were instrumental in sending the game to overtime and helping the Lions advance.
Wallace State was the underdog Wednesday against Vincennes, which is making its tournament-record 29th appearance and has three national championships under its belt.
The Trailblazers jumped on Wallace State early, scooting out to a 29-13 lead halfway through the first half. As Wallace State did in the second half against Westchester, the Lions rallied before intermission, trimming their deficit to 36-35 at the half. Marcus Burwell nailed a 3-pointer for the Lions with 2:45 left before the break, and Moore added four straight points in the final 20 seconds.
Wallace State put together its strongest surge during the opening three minutes of the second half, using a 7-0 run to grab a 42-36 advantage. Moore accounted for a pair of layups during the run, while Lewis added a 3-pointer.
Vincennes answered back, tying things up on three different occasions over the next six minutes.
Vincennes' Willie Wiley corralled a loose ball off the rim and dunked it with 11:05 remaining to give the Trailblazers a slim 52-50 lead. Vincennes never trailed again. Wallace State closed its deficit to as few as six points the rest of the way, but the Trailblazers closed it out with a flurry of made free throws.
"We made plays, we just didn't do it consistently enough to win," Meeks said.
Four Wallace State players finished with double figures. Lewis had 22 points and four assists in his final game for the Lions, Moore scored 14, Cody Farley had 13 points and Burwell added 11 points and seven rebounds.
Wiley led Vincennes with 18 points. Paris Burns and Devin Foster scored 16 points apiece, Charles Foster had 14 off the bench and Loomis Gerring finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
It was the final Wallace State game for Lewis, Farley, Burwell, Marcus Johnson, Sean Anthony, X-keem Jones and Quinterian McConico.
Pictured is Marcus Johnson