By Nicholas Huenefeld/Owens Sports Information
Cincinnati, OH---Joe Retic II led the way with 20 points as the Express men's basketball team captured the district championship with a 99-84 win over No. 10 Lakeland Community College yesterday.
As a team, the Express finished 34-for-63 (54 percent) from the field overall, 15-for-30 (50 percent) from 3-point range and 16-for-18 (88.9 percent) from the foul line.
Lakeland jumped out to a 10-0 lead just minutes into the game. The Express, however, turned up the pressure and took a 51-44 lead into the break.
In the first half, James Kelly had two highlight dunks. On one, he backed down Lakeland's center Richard Smith, spun to his right and dunked with two hands over him. Later, Kelly received an alley-oop and threw it down with his left hand.
Tony Boykins opened up the second half with a 3-pointer from the right corner to stretch the lead to 11, but Lakeland chipped away.
At two different points in the second half, they cut their deficit to three. However, after the second time, the Express used a barrage of 3-pointers to help put the game away.
After the first occurrence, the Express stretched the lead before Lakeland pulled within 66-62. Following a timeout, Andy Bachman drailed a 3-pointer from the right wing to put the Express up seven. However, a Bachman turnover led to a Lakeland lay-up. Following that, a Kelly turnover led to another lay-up and the deficit was at three (69-66) for the second time.
Lakeland then forced another turnover on the next possession and called a timeout. However, Smith was whistled for an illegal screen to give the ball back. The Express took advantage and never looked back.
On the other end, Boykins took a pass from Kelly and made a 3-pointer from the left wing to push the lead to 72-66.
Lakeland would then make 1-for-2 from the foul line, but Jay Marquettedrilled a corner three to make it 75-67. Retic then stole a pass, made a spin move and passed to Kelly for a fast break two-handed slam to give the Express a 77-67 lead.
After that, the closest Lakeland got was nine. Bachman hit another 3-pointer and Retic made a driving lay-up and the Express took a 93-78 with two minutes left.
Kelly (4-for-4) and Boykins (2-for-2) then closed out the game at the foul line before each team cleared their benches with substitutions.
Retic finished 6-for-12 from the field overall, 3-for-5 from 3-point range and 5-for-7 from the foul line to total 20 points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals. His six assists tied Markese Allen for the team-high.
Kelly finished with 18 points, a team-high 11 rebounds and three assists. He finished 6-for-9 overall from the field, 2-for-2 from the 3-point line and 4-for-4 from the foul line. He was 5-for-8 from 3-point range in two days.
Bachman made 4-for-7 from 3-point range (5-for-8 overall) for 14 points, while Franklin Lindsey added 13 points and Boykins had 11 points. The latter two combined to shoot 9-for-18 overall.
As a team, the Express shot 15-for-26 overall from the field in the second half, which included a 9-for-15 3-point performance. Additionally, they were 9-for-11 from the foul line in the half.
Charles Oliver led Lakeland with 27 points, but committed a team-high four turnovers. Chaz Rollins added 15 points and Marcus Fleming had 13 points.
In two seasons as head coach, Dave Clarke is now 48-16 overall - the best two-year start to a coaching tenure in Express men's basketball history. He has led the team to back-to-back district championship game appearances - both against Lakeland.
Regarding Lakeland, with yesterday's loss to the Express, they missed a chance for their third consecutive district championship.
Kelly was named the tournament MVP, while Retic was named to the all-tournament team. In two games, Kelly totaled 45 points and 21 rebounds, while Retic had 24 points, 13 rebounds, 16 assists and four steals.
The Express now advance to the NJCAA D-II National Tournament (Sweet 16) on March 19-23 in Danville, Ill. Tournament seedings and first round matchups will be announced Tuesday.
With their win in the day's nightcap, the Express men's basketball team captured the district championship in the same year as the women's team for the first time since 2002-03, which also happens to be the last time the Express men made it to the national tournament.