DACC claims Region 24 title on home floor

DACC claims Region 24 title on home floor

DANVILLE — Tyler Toopes blurted out "bank" just after the shot left his fingertips.

Toopes — a sophomore three-point specialist on the Danville Area Community College men's basketball team — eventually watched as his high-arching three-pointer careened off the glass backboard, spun backward and found the bottom of the net.

John Wood's Eric Easter, who was standing an arm's length away from Toopes, peered over in disbelief.

Toopes' buzzer-beating, gut-punching three-pointer with 3:30 left in regulation came at a time when both DACC and John Wood couldn't buy a bucket.

The Jaguars fed off that huge swing of momentum and second-seeded DACC knocked down some clutch free throws to salt away a 54-48 victory over top-seeded John Wood during Sunday's championship game of the Region 24 tournament at Mary Miller Gymnasium in Danville.

"Luckily, I had the bank shot going. Half way up, I said, 'Bank.' The guy looked at me. He couldn't believe it. Neither could I," said Toopes, who was a 45.8-percent shooter from beyond the arc this season. "I always like the lucky ones. Most other times it's skill. It's not bad to have lady luck on your side."

Once the final buzzer sounded minutes later, DACC's players doused Jaguars coach DaJuan Gouard with water.

There was cause for celebration, after all. DACC (26-6) had locked up its first berth in the NJCAA Division II tournament since 2012.

The Jaguars will be playing in the 16-team national tournament on its home floor when the first round begins March 20.

After the two teams split the season series with each one winning on the other's home floor, the opening 20 minutes didn't go so well for DACC.

The Blazers (22-11) controlled the early proceedings, surging to an eight-point lead following back-to-back buckets from Easter. A frustrated Gouard had seen enough, asking for a timeout.

Nothing schematic was discussed during the 30-second gathering, as the Jaguars' coach sternly asked his team to "wake up" from its slumber.

It worked — for a while at least.

The Jaguars twice climbed within a point of John Wood in the first half, including when Jordan Gary skirted the baseline before slamming home a rim-ratting dunk that ripped through the net and brought the partisan crowd inside to its feet.

John Wood counterpunched, however, and led 31-26 at the break.

"At the half, they were shooting 55 percent from the field, Toopes said. "We just had to D them up."

DACC did just that — squeezing down defensively against the Blazers' motion offense and limiting John Wood to only 17 points on 27-percent shooting after the break.

Then, Toopes heated up from beyond the arc.

Toopes, who paced his team with 14 points, sank a three-pointer that put DACC ahead for the first time in Sunday's game.

On the next offensive possession, Gary spotted Jayvon Landon in the post for a layup to extend the Jaguars' advantage to 37-33 with 12 minutes left.

"We knew we were both going to guard," Blazers coach Brad Hoyt said. "We were the two best defensive teams in our league. We had to find a way to score. Quite honestly, I couldn't find a way to get our guys chances to score. They ramped their pressure up the second half. We couldn't solve it. We didn't get in a flow."

DACC simply made far more key plays in the final minutes than John Wood did.

Toopes' banked three-pointer, coupled with clutch free throws from Gary and Lavelle Smith in the final 65 seconds, allowed the Jaguars to close out the win.

Gary finished with seven points for DACC, while Jamil Wilson added nine.

The full national tournament bracket will be released today at which time DACC will learn its first-round opponent.

But, the Jaguars know one thing: they'll be resting in their own beds come tournament time.

"This is the moment that we have been preparing for since August," Gouard said. ... "You only get (to host the regional tournament) once every five years. We had to take advantage of it. There was no waiting for next year."

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