Seeded seventh, the Cyclones kicked off their first run in 10 years in the NJCAA Division II championship on March 20 in Danville, Illinois where they faced Johnson County Community College. Chalk it up to pre-game jitters and being in the spotlight, the Cyclones lost the contest 70-63.
Moraine Valley never gave up in this game, consistently fighting back and coming within three on a bucket by Richaun Holmes (Lockport) with less than one minute to go. But a slow start in the first half and too many turnovers sent the Cyclones into the consolation bracket. Holmes scored 18 with two blocks, two steals and three rebounds. Lane Barlow (St. Rita) had 15 points and two steals while Modestas Masiulionis (Lemont) scored 11 points, going 2-for-2 from the free throw line and grabbing four boards.
In their second matchup on March 21, the Cyclones faced the Rend Lake College Warriors and won 67-62. Coach Dedrick Shannon said this was the first win any team from Region IV earned while competing in nationals.
Another slow start saw the Cyclones trail 29-25 at the half. To start the second half, Moraine Valley went on a 12-2 run and maintained pressure on Rend Lake. Holmes scored 23 points in addition to three blocks, two steals and five rebounds. Jackson was on fire at the free-throw line, where he scored eight of his 14 points. He also had six rebounds and one block. Mike O’Donnell (Leo) scored 13 points, going 3-for-5 from the 3-point line, and Masiulionis had 10 points, one steal and six rebounds.
On March 23 the Cyclones played their third game against Erie Community College. Despite a strong comeback, the Cyclones lost 80-69 to end their run in nationals.
Erie established a quick pace on the floor keeping Moraine Valley down 46-31 at the half. With 13 minutes left in the game, the Cyclones changed the tempo and increased the intensity of the defense to slow down the Kats’ momentum. Thanks to a couple of free throws by Holmes with less than three minutes to go, the Cyclones came within four points. Additional turnovers and Holmes fouling out of the game officially ended the hoopsters’ season. “I’m sorry to say we really haven’t put together two good halves all season, but we played tough,” Shannon said.
Mike Jackson (Thornridge) led the ’Clones with 23 points, including all six free throws, and one steal. Masiulionis (18) and Holmes (13) also reached double digit figures.
Although the Cyclones would have liked to complete their trip in nationals with more wins, they did finish as one of the top 16 teams in the country and are pretty pleased.
“It took several years of prep to get here, so I won’t complain. It’s been a great season. We had a great experience at nationals, and I don’t want to minimize that. We played tough, competed and were resilient. It was a great opportunity for the team and it should be a Moraine Valley destination every year,” Shannon said. “Holmes, Jackson and Masiulionis played nice games and well defensively, we just needed to shoot better overall. Even in those losses we fought. We had great experiences this season. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but how can you complain winning 27 and going to nationals?”
The Cyclones finished the season as NJCAA Region IV champs and Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference co-champs, showing an overall 27-9 record and 12-2 conference record. Holmes was the top blocker in the nation and recognized on the All-Region and All-Conference first team as well as being named the Skyway Conference Player of the Year. Jackson was named to the All-Region second team and All-Conference first team with Masiulionis. Lane Barlow (St. Rita) made All-Conference second team. Holmes and O’Donnell were named to the All-Region tournament team with O’Donnell being named MVP. Shannon was Conference Coach of the Year. With several starters transferring to four-year universities, Shannon expects to recruit an entirely new team next season.