Getting revenge is sweet. Getting revenge twice in a matter of three days is even sweeter.
And it’s exactly what the Roosevelt Lakers men’s basketball team got when they defeated both Indiana University- South Bend (Titans) and Olivet Nazarene University (Tigers) in the first two rounds of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament (CCAC) that got underway on Monday (Feb. 24th).
Back in late January, the Lakers lost a heart breaker to Indiana- South Bend on their home court when Titans’ junior guard, Jason Jordan, hit a buzzer-beater to take the air out of the Lillian and Larry Goodman Center. In that game, neither leading rebounder Jeremiah Jackson nor senior reserve forward, Mykyta Chesko, were active for the contest — both of them being sidelined with leg injuries.
Not this time around.
Both players were a go for the rematch as Roosevelt bested Indiana- South Bend in an overtime thriller, 73-68. The Lakers held Jordan, arguably the Titans best player, to 33 percent shooting (6-of-18 from the field) on the evening in securing the team’s first modern playoff win since the program was resurrected 4 years ago. Jackson chipped in 10 points and hauled in 5 rebounds despite still being hampered with a lower leg injury.
“He’s a game changer … even when he’s at 80 percent, he’s still big for us,” said Joe Griffin, Roosevelt men’s basketball coach.
Riding the momentum of the win, Roosevelt traveled to Bourbonnais (IL) for a quarterfinal matchup against Olivet Nazarene — a team that drubbed the Lakers (still without Jackson and Chesko) 91-64 at the Goodman Center just a week after Jordan’s buzzer beater. In that game, the Tigers led by 18 at the half and coasted the rest of the way, leaving a bad taste in the Lakers’ mouths. So as fate would have it, Roosevelt couldn’t have scripted a better opponent to square off against in the second round of the tournament.
From the opening tip, the Lakers showed that they were a much better team — and a more complete team — than the ones that were embarrassed weeks ago. They held the lead for the first 10 minutes of the contest and trailed by just 3 at halftime, 43-40. Roosevelt was within such short striking distance thanks in part to a big first half by junior forward Joe Harks (21 points, 6 rebounds) who pumped in 12 points and the sharpshooting of Jason Sotira. The senior backup guard let it all hang out (11 points) knowing that he could quite possibly be playing for the last time in a green and white uniform. His two three-pointers, including one with just five seconds to play, sliced the Tigers lead in half heading into intermission.
“We used that loss (to Olivet) as motivation for this game,” said Sotira. “They probably thought that they would come in here and roll all over us.”
Coach Griffin was pleased with Sotira’s heightened level of play as well.
“Jason’s a senior, he’s not leaving any bullets left in the holster,” said Griffin. “He hit some big shots for us.”
And he wasn’t the only senior that refused to let this be his final game.
Coming off the bench and spelling Jackson, who got into foul trouble early in the second half, Chesko tallied four points and four rebounds in 17 minutes of play as the Lakers scratched and clawed against the Tigers all night long. But despite the team’s valiant efforts, Roosevelt trailed by eight with just over three minutes to go in the game.
That’s when the defense put on the clamps while Harks and Jackson went to work. After starting guard Jason Markus drilled a three-pointer to cut the Tigers’ lead to 71-68 with 33 seconds remaining, Harks had a clutch steal and was fouled driving to the rim. As the raucous crowd of over 600 jeered, he calmly buried both free throws to trim the lead to one. Then, trailing by two with under 15 seconds to play, the Lakers turned to Jackson who bulldozed his way inside and tied the game with 11.7 seconds left to force overtime.
“J.J. was a huge factor for us tonight,” said starting point guard, Tyree York. “He didn’t play the first time around so he was big for us tonight.”
Jackson continued to be “big” for the Lakers in the extra period scoring the team’s first six points before exiting the game with more leg trouble. That was York’s (23 points, 10 rebounds) cue to take over. With the game tied at 78, the junior hit a go-ahead three-pointer to put the lakers up by three — a lead they would not relinquish. He and Harks combined to hit 5-of-6 free throws in the final 23 seconds, none bigger than Harks’ two to ice it after the Tigers were called for an out-of-bounds penalty with a chance to tie or go for the win. Final score: Lakers 88-84.
As the final horn sounded, an elated Coach Griffin raised his hands in triumph as his jubilant squad lined up to shake hands with their vanquished foe.
“We talked about playing our best at the end of the year and that’s what we’re doing right now,” said Griffin. “We’re on cloud 9.”
Roosevelt now advances to the CCAC semifinals for the first time in program history. They will face 7th-ranked Saint Xavier in Milwaukee, Wis. on Friday night at 7 p.m. The Lakers lost both regular-season games to them this year, but if its first two playoff games were any indication, that shouldn’t matter much to Roosevelt. And win, lose, or draw, every member of the Lakers squad, “1-thru-20”, can hold their heads high with all the feats they have accomplished for the program this year, especially the seniors who have watched a team that was once an afterthought, emerge into viable contenders for the CCAC Title.
“I’m so glad to see the team has improved every single year”, said Chesko. “To be one game away from the conference championship is unbelievable.”