For Southwestern Community College’s men’s basketball team, the layoff between the NJCAA Division II Region XI championship game and the opening round of the national tournament has been its second-longest break of the season, aside from Christmas.
Coach Todd Lorensen’s team is ready and prepared for the challenges ahead this week in Danville, Illinois.
Several good days of practice late last week have the top-seeded Spartans, 32-1, motivated and ready to take on their first round opponent, unseeded College of Southern Maryland on Tuesday.
Tip in the first-round game is set for 11 a.m. Central time at the Mary Miller Center on the campus of Danville Area Community College.
“It’s about time it got here,” said freshman Khallid Edwards.
Even before boarding the bus for Illinois, Edwards was still pinching himself about what him and his teammates were setting out to do.
“It’s still unreal,” Edwards said. “I have to get down there to actually see it come to life. It’s just amazing.
“I’m extremely happy to be a part of this club.”
Southwestern received an enthusiastic sendoff Sunday morning from the community before departing Creston. Spartan backers gathered to give the team best wishes. The team signed autographs. Lorensen spoke about this team and the challenge upcoming. Then the team walked through a human tunnel to the bus before heading east out of town on Highway 34 toward Illinois.
“We’re just excited to take in all of the festivities before we leave, see all the fans,” said sophomore Brodric Thomas. “It’s really exciting to get there.”
Southwestern left for Danville dialed in for Tuesday’s first-round game.
“We’ve been locked in,” Thomas said. “We’ll be ready by the time we get there in Danville.”
Lorensen seen a team determined to bring back the first athletic national championship in Southwestern Community College history.
“We’ve had a couple really good days of practice,” Lorensen said. “The last few days have us feeling good about ourselves.
“We’re looking forward to going down there and competing.”
With a dialed in squad, four wins are within reach.
“We want to stay focused,” said sophomore Jamil Maddred. “Our goal is to win the national championship.”
College of Southern Maryland comes in at 14-16. The school, based in LaPlata, Maryland, approximately 35 miles south of Washington D.C., won three straight games in the Region 20 tournament to advance, including a two-point win in the semifinal and a four-point win in the final to reach Danville.
College of Southern Maryland has a solid point guard in sophomore Anthony Williams. He’s tied for the team lead at 16.6 points per game.
“They’ve got a really nice point guard that can score at all levels, can get to the rim, pull up from the mid range, is shooting about 35 percent from the arc on a high number of attempts,” Lorensen said. “He’s their most important player.”
Sophomore forward David Francis also averages 16.6 points pre game.
“They’ve got a four, slash five that’s very capable of putting the ball on the floor, also hoisting it up, setting up out to the arc for threes,” Lorensen said.
College of Southern Maryland also has a handful of players that can reach double figures.
“They just seem to get the job done,” Lorensen said. “Watching the game, you don’t really see them, but the next thing you know they have 12 points, and seven rebounds.”
Lorensen considered them much like Richard J. Daley that Southwestern saw at the Indian Hills Tournament.
“They have some strong similarities to that group,” Lorensen said. “They had a really nice point guard, were long and athletic. They weren’t the most disciplined team, but they played hard, created good opportunities for themselves.”
A good showing from the Southwestern transition defense will be key.
“If we can sprint back in transition defense, get into our half court defense we’ll be really good,” Lorensen said. “They get a majority of their points on buckets off transition or offensive rebounds. I feel real good about our transition defense. I do worry about our ability to keep them off the offensive glass.”
While College of Southern Maryland’s record is not imposing, Southwestern is treating them with utmost respect.
“We never disrespect any team,” Edwards said. “We know we should handle business, but we never take any team for granted. You can never take this moment for granted.”
“It may never come again.”
Step one to the national title starts Tuesday.
“We plan to be there the entire week, play four games in five days,” Lorensen said.
“We’re excited about the opportunity.”