INA -- With seven minutes left, the John A. Logan College men's basketball team had a five-point lead and was riding high in Thursday night's semifinal game against Southwestern Illinois at the NJCAA District 16 tournament.
But the Blue Storm billowed and knocked out Logan, 76-66, to advance to the championship game at Rend Lake College's Waugh Gymnasium.
SWIC, which won two of three tight meetings between the clubs, moved on to face Vincennes in Saturday night's title game for a spot in the NJCAA Division I national tournament, while the Vols were left out and finished at 26-6.
"Can't be disappointed in this group," said Logan coach Kyle Smithpeters. "Twenty-six wins. We didn't imagine we'd be in this situation right now."
JALC had a 57-52 lead after Derek Hawthorne Jr. drilled a 3-pointer with 7:07 left. Smithpeters called a timeout after the shot, but SWIC answered with eight straight points to claim the 11th and final lead change of the game.
The Vols also missed two 1-and-1 free throws during that 8-0 run and finished the game 9 of 21 from the foul line. Logan was also just 5 of 17 from 3-point territory.
Jaalam Hill, who nailed a halfcourt shot at the buzzer in overtime to lift SWIC over Olney in the quarterfinals, hit a 3-pointer to give the Storm that final lead change at 60-57 with 4:10 remaining.
A big steal and layup by Destan Williams with 1:05 left gave the Storm a five-point lead at 66-61. SWIC made 12 of its 14 free throws in the final three minutes and finished 19 of 26 for the game.
"We had a five-point lead and made a couple of bad plays on our end," Smithpeters said. "We need to play better without fouling down the stretch."
Logan jumped out to a 14-7 lead with a dunk by Romelo Burrell and a 3-pointer from Jaiveon Eaves, but the Storm took their first lead at 16-14 on a triple by Braden Fitzjerrells and led by as many as five before Logan went back in front at 25-24 on an alley-oop slam by Hawthorne.
Back and forth it went from there until David Sloan slipped in a reverse layup at the buzzer to give the Vols a 32-30 halftime lead.
It stayed close in the second half with Logan getting big baskets from Vonnie Patterson, Ronnie Carson and Hawthorne before the Storm took control.
"We had some chances and didn't capitalize like we had most of the season down the stretch in the last couple of minutes," Smithpeters said. "We left a lot of points out there. We got a little frustrated with the foul situation and started settling. But we have to be able to make those adjustments and do a better job of executing down the stretch.
"We had some good looks that just didn't go in. Some point blank looks. But you have to be able to handle those things."
Sloan led the Vols with 16 points and seven assists. Eaves tallied 13 points and Burrell had 12 points and seven rebounds. Hawthorne finished with 10 points and five rebounds and Patterson scored seven but fouled out with 5:37 remaining.
Carson had just three points but seven rebounds and five assists. Quamain Nelson, Jonah Jackson and Damion Taylor combined for just five points.
SWIC's Javonte Perkins, a 6-foot-7 freshman, led all scorers with 26 points. Hill had 22 and Williams netted 12. Fitzjerrells, the Mt. Vernon product, had seven points.
Although Logan entered the season with just one returning player, the 13 newcomers certainly formed a formidable, entertaining and successful unit. The Vols now have to replace five sophomores -- Aaron Twist, Taylor, Eaves, Carson and Hawthorne -- and could lose more talent to four-year schools.
No matter what happens from here, this season's Vols left their mark with a Great Rivers Athletic Conference championship.
"We've got a lot of good players on this team," Smithpeters said. "We went on a heck of a tear at the end of the season. It's been a fun ride and it's been fun to watch it."