DANVILLE, Illinois — At some point, conventional wisdom directed, the Bears’ lack of size on the frontline would catch up with them. The antagonists have been waiting for it and, for now, they’ll keep waiting.
Mott (34-1) took down a much bigger Lakeland squad in the national semifinals tonight in Danville, 84-73.
As much as Lakeland’s team is all about quality big men, Mott’s attack is led by a stable of tireless guards that make life miserable for the opposition. The Bears lost the rebounding battle, but it was close; they lost the battle of points in the paint, but it was close; they won the battle of the backcourt, and that wasn’t even a contest.
The lead horse, sophomore John Taylor, scored 28 points to earn game-high honors by two points over freshman Ralph Eason, who added seven steals, five rebounds and three assists to his 26 points.
Mott, stymied a bit by a pretty impressive defensive performance by Lakeland on Taylor early on, led by only three at the half. At the outset of the second half, Lakeland sprinted out on an 8-1 run and actually led by six at the 14-minute mark of the half.
Two other stablemates, sophomore Darryl “Boo” Marshall and freshman Jakob Perry, hit several clutch shots in crunch time to take a little wind out of Lakeland’s sails. Marshall, Mott’s point guard, finished with 14 points, four assists and only one turnover.
A couple hard-earned baskets by freshman forward Kory Billups coupled with an outstanding performance by Ralph Eason on Mott’s press put the game on ice. Mott led by as many as 15 and Lakeland never got closer than six in the game’s final five minutes.
For Mott head coach Steve Schmidt, tomorrow night’s game against Rhode Island CC will mark his seventh appearance in the championship finale. For Schmidt, a win would earn him his fourth national championship ring.
The game will be broadcast starting at 8:30 p.m. eastern on IHigh.com.
— Mott fans have come to expect great performances from Taylor and Eason. Those two guys are serious players. Not to diminish their performances tonight, but I think many people in attendance were most impressed by the poise and clutch play by “Boo” Marshall. His effort on the defensive end was tremendous and he stepped up in a big way on the offensive end, connecting on four huge triples.
— I’m not basing this prediction purely on emotion, as I’ve seen Ralph Eason play 25 or more times this season: I think Eason will be one of the top 10 players to ever play at Mott by the time he’s done. He’s a ferocious competitor, and tremendous athlete and is a high-level finisher. A year from now, he is going to make some D-1 coach a happy man.
— The drive for 35 ends tomorrow night. With a win, Mott will have won 35 games for only the third time in school history. The last two times the Bears have hit 35, they’ve left Danville with the title (2007, 2008).
— Coach Schmidt always talk about how his program is actually more like a family. I saw evidence of that tonight, just five minutes after the team arrived back at the hotel after the game. Schmidt had his whole team gather in one room to light candles and sing Happy Birthday to one of Mott’s young fans.