EAST PEORIA — A down-to-the-wire affair for the Parkland men's basketball team ended the way the Cobras wanted: with a ticket to the Region 24 Championship in hand.
A 60-59 victory over Illinois Central earned in the final seconds of Saturday afternoon's semifinal game helped Parkland reach the title game for the third time in the last four seasons. The process of getting there, though, was a little rough around the edges.
"We're lucky to advance," Parkland coach Anthony Figueroa said. "We probably played nine minutes of good basketball and managed to somehow find a way to win."
The Cobras (24-3) took control from the start with 13 unanswered points — including the first six points from sophomore guard Yaakema Rose Jr. — to begin the game, but were given some trouble when the Cougars (18-9) ran off 20 straight points out of a timeout. Parkland responded again, though, as Rose's buzzer-beater capped a 16-4 run to finish the first half.
"Defensively, I think we had a little lapse," Figueroa said. "We started off the game really focused and did some good things. After the timeout, I think we started to get relaxed and I didn't think we took the best shots. I also thought we missed some shots that we normally make. Credit to ICC. We were probably missing some shots because of their defense."
Back and forth until the final minute, the game tipped — literally — in favor of the Cobras when Rose drove to the hoop trailing 59-58 and missed along the rim. But freshman Jaden Coleman found it for a go-ahead, tip-in basket with 5.5 seconds remaining to put Parkland ahead 60-59.
Illinois Central had one final chance to take the lead after a timeout and drove into the paint, but freshman Charles Campbell Jr. took a charge to clinch Parkland's spot in the region championship game, with a win today advancing Parkland to the NJCAA Division II national tournament.
Campbell finished with 11 points, as did sophomore Ty'Ohn Trimble, while Rose championed the Cobras with a game-high 22 points and four three-pointers. Coleman, who scored his only points on the tip-in, also grabbed four offensive rebounds.
"We were just making corrections on some of our mistakes," Figueroa said. "We were strictly talking about things we needed to do, but they were in tune with the game. They never once thought they couldn't win the game."
Parkland finds itself with a fresh canvas for today's 2 p.m. tipoff against John Wood, which split the two regular-season meetings with the Cobras as each team won on its home court.
Given the season ledger, Figueroa said today's neutral-site matchup at the ICC Cougarplex with two teams playing back-to-back days presents an opportunity to "see who the tougher team is."
"We just can't have these offensive gaps like we had (Saturday)," Figueroa said. "I just don't think scoring under 60 points is good enough to win a championship."