As Doug Stotler sat watching the craziness unfold Wednesday at the NJCAA District 16 Men’s Basketball Tournament at Rend Lake College, he likely couldn’t help but let his mind go where coaches’ minds aren’t supposed to go:
The dreaded taboo of comparing scores.
Stotler, the men’s basketball coach and athletic director at Lewis and Clark Community College had seen his team’s season end Monday night in a play-in game loss at Shawnee College, so he had time to watch the semifinals Wednesday that pitted No. 2-ranked Vincennes against Kaskaskia and No. 5 John A. Logan College vs. Wabash Valley.
Both nationally ranked teams lost, making it a big enough story. But there was more to it to Stotler, especially the Vincennes 78-76 loss to Kaskaskia, which came on a last second tip-in.
“Those were crazy games,” Stotler said of Wednesday’s district tourney semifinals.
Two weeks ago, Stotler’s Trailblazers blitzed that same Kaskaskia team to the tune of 96-83 in Centralia. That came a game following an 84-50 L&C loss at Vincennes. And in late January, L&C lost a 79-77 overtime decision at Wabash Valley, a game the Trailblazers coach felt should have probably been in his team’s win column. For 10-18 L&C, the season was a case of woulda, shoulda, coulda.
After the wacky season in District 16, Wednesday’s upsets fell short of shocking, even if unexpected. In a district that for many years has had a fairly rigid caste system, the lines between the haves and the have nots were blurred this season. In 2018-19, the commoners rose up against the lords from time to time. The cream may still rise to the top, but it’s been a wild ride.
Kaskaskia, which beat second-ranked Vincennes was a scrappy group, but one that was dominated by L&C in a game that Stotler said was one his group can hang its hat on.
“That game showed what our group was capable of doing,” Stotler said of the convincing win at Kaskaskia. “And it came after a pretty rough one at Vincennes.”
L&C closed out its regular season with a hard-fought win at Lake Land, then faded quickly in the play-in game loss Monday at Shawnee.
For Stotler’s L&C Trailblazers, the season was a campaign fought with a lineup missing a key ingredient - a pure point guard. Because of off-season injuries, early season injuries and other factors, L&C simply didn’t have one to put on the court, much less two or three from whom to draw a leader.
“It’s tough to win in this region any night,” Stotler said, “but when you’re fighting uphill a lot of the time, it’s even tougher.”
But Stotler said the players he did have were the ones he preferred to discuss anyway.
“It irritates me when I hear teams talk about how they survived adversity,” he said. “Heck, everybody has adversity. They all go through it.
“It was an unusual season,” Stotler said. “This team was really close at times, but also pretty far away at other times.”
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