The magic carpet ride that is Allen Community College’s 2021-22 basketball season is one step closer to the Red Devils’ ultimate goal — to qualify for the upcoming NJCAA-II national tournament.
It wasn’t easy Wednesday, as the Red Devils fought tooth and nail with rival Neosho County, before a number of key plays and steely free throw shooting secured an 86-79 victory.
The win, in front of a raucous crowd in the ACC gymnasium, sets up a date in Salina Saturday against Johnson County for the Region VI championship, and a date in the national tournament.
If Allen wins, it will mark ACC’s first regional title since 1924, way back before there was an Allen Community College. (It was known as Iola Junior College back then.)
“At the end of the day, at tournament time, all you want to do is survive and advance,” Allen head coach Andy Shaw said. “And that’s what we did. I’m proud of everybody.”
The win wasn’t secure until the waning seconds, when Neosho County’s Micah Jones was just off the mark on his 3-point attempt that would have pared Allen’s lead to two.
Instead, Allen’s Ed Wright, who was lethal from the free-throw line, was there for the rebound. He drained his last two charities of the half for the final points. Wright, who once again paced the ACC attack with 25 points, was 8 of 8 from the line.
Neither team led by more than eight in a back-and-forth affair that saw the visiting Panthers, and their vocal contingent of supporters, take the early lead, 14-7.
“We didn’t get off to the greatest start,” Shaw noted. “They jumped on us and had the momentum. I think they were playing a bit harder than we were. We trailed by eight, but it felt like it was 15.
“I thought we were a little nervous to start. But once we settled in, we were able to come back and take the lead, and hold on to it.”
Wright’s 3-pointer at the 6:40 mark of the half triggered a 16-2 ACC run, capped by Zabriel Boozer’s shot from the lane with 3:15 left to put the Red Devils up, 32-25.
Allen never trailed again, but also was never able to do much to extend its lead. The margin was 34-30 at the break before the teams traded buckets through the early going of the second half.
“We didn’t get a stop for the first six minutes of the second half,” Shaw noted. “Right out of the gate, we were scoring and Neosho was scoring.”
The Panthers briefly tied the score at 42-42 and 50-50, but the Red Devils responded each time.
Chris Dixon’s putback and subsequent free throw with 9:55 remaining gave the Red Devils the lead for good at 53-50.
Allen’s Tanner Meyer scored twice, and Brayden Thompson’s putback at the 8-minute mark extended the lead to 59-52, but the Panthers immediately responded with a 7-2 run.
Jayden Parker’s bucket with 6½ minutes left, which was almost ruled an offensive foul before the referee reversed his call, pulled Neosho County to within 61-59.
Thompson’s traditional 3-point play at the 5:44 mark re-established a five-point margin for Allen. Cedric Rollerson’s bucket a minute later extended the lead to six, and Wright’s steal and layup at 3:01 pushed the lead to 72-64.
The Panthers’ comeback was stymied a bit by faulty free-throw shooting. The Panthers missed 4 of 6 charities over a 90-second stretch, which proved especially key in the last minute of the contest.
Kendural Jolly served up NCCC’s last gasp with a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which cut the lead to 81-77 with 33 seconds left.
But it was too little, too late, as Wright and Nick Whittick combined to hit 5 of 6 free throws to finally seal the win.
Shaw noted the contributions ACC received from up and down the lineup.
Treyvian Sylvester’s thunderous first-half dunk helped key Allen’s early comeback, and Meyer’s shooting in the second half was pivotal.
“These kids have been making plays all year,” Shaw said. “I’m proud of them for their leadership, and how they stepped up. It was a great atmosphere. The students were great. This was the biggest crowd from the community I’ve seen out here in my 11 years. The crowd helped us win that game.”
Four Allen players reached double figures, led by Wright’s 25. Dixon added 14 points and eight rebounds, while Rollerson scored 15 with five boards and four assists. Boozer blocked a pair of shots. Wright added three steals and four assists to his ledger.
Jerry Carraway scored 21 to lead Neosho, followed by Zaakir Sawyer with 20 and Jolly with 12.
ALLEN entered the season with three items on its to-do list.
1. Win the Jayhawk Conference (check)
2. Win at least 25 games (check)
3. Secure the Regional championship. (find out Saturday)
“We’re excited to get this opportunity,” Shaw said. “We’ve got one more to accomplish, to make the national tournament.”
Winning will be a tall order, against Johnson County, the nation’s fourth-ranked NJCAA-II team.
Saturday’s matchup tips off at 2 p.m. Saturday at Tony’s Pizza Event Center in Salina. The winner earns a trip to Danville, Ill., for the NJCAA National Tournament.
The matchup will mark the third time Allen and Johnson County will have played each other in the past two weeks. The Red Devils swept both regular season games last week to secure the conference title.
FG/3pt FT F TP
Vaigafa 2/1 1 2 8
Carraway 5/3 2 4 21
Jones 4 0 3 8
Sawyer 8 4 2 20
Harriott 0 0 2 0
Jolly 1/3 1 3 12
Norris 0/1 0 2 3
Yates 0 0 2 0
Parker 3 1 1 7
Totals 23/8 9 21 79
FG/3pt FT F TP
Dixon 5/1 1 0 14
Meyer 2/2 0 1 10
Rollerson 3/1 6 3 15
Lawrence 0 1 0 1
Whittick 3 2 1 8
Wright 7/1 8 1 25
Boozer 2 0 4 4
Sylvester 1 0 0 2
Thompson 2 1 3 5
Shelley 0 0 1 0
Mahgoub 1 0 2 2
Totals 26/5 19 16 86