BY AARON PATTERSON
There’s one word that isn’t allowed to be said in the Danville Area Community College Jaguars men’s basketball locker room. The truth is, there are probably a lot of words coach Mike Carpenter would rather not hear on a consistent basis. But the “S” word isn’t to be discussed.
The six letter word has undoubtedly been thrown around by a number of people outside of the program, but the more the Jaguars avoid it, the bigger it gets. For the last two months, it has grown increasingly each time they step on the court, and on Saturday it got even bigger with an 83-68 win over Illinois Central College.
“We haven’t mentioned the word ‘streak’ the whole season, and we’re going to keep it that way,” Carpenter said. “We approach every day the same. We’re going to take a business-like approach and prepare like we have all season. The word ‘streak’ has not come out of my mouth all year, and it won’t. I’m sure they’re aware of it as well as other people, and that’s great. We’re playing well right now, but we can’t be playing to break records. We have to be playing to play for each other and continue to work hard and play together as a team. That’s how we’ve won the games that we’ve won.”
The seventh-ranked Jaguars (24-3 overall, 7-0 in the Mid-West Athletic Conference) have now won 13 games in a row with the impressive run starting on December 18. Much of their success has been attributed to experience and maturity. The team boasts nine sophomores including three that are older than most second-year students — Kody Tucker (21), Mike Ryce (24) and David Hicks (25). Add freshman Ronnie White (22) to the list, and Carpenter has a mature and coachable roster capable of performing in pressure situations. Most importantly, the Jaguars understand the significance of playing defense.
Saturday marked the ninth time this season DACC has held an opponent to less that 40 percent shooting, and the 10th time it has won by 15 or more points.
“We realize we can win a lot of games with defense, so we can get down and we can guard people,” DACC sophomore Derek Shouse said. “It starts with our point guard, Chris Whitehead. He does a great job of playing D on the point guard.”
The defense might begin with Whitehead, but it typically ends with White, who swatted five blocks against ICC. It is the 12th time this season he has recorded five or more blocks, and he has increasingly earned the trust of his teammates.
“He protects the basket,” Shouse said. “If we get beat off the dribble, he protects the basket. He and Mike (Ryce) are athletic enough to get rebounds. That takes pressure off of our guards because we can play tight defense and we know we have Mike and Ronnie back there to help us.”
White has already set the program’s all-time career blocks record, and on Saturday he showed improvement in his offensive game as well by scoring a career high 22 points.
After recording his second basket of the game to put DACC up 9-6, White missed his next four shot attempts. The cold stretch was soon forgiven, though, when he made his next 10 attempts, including four free throws. The stretch accounted for 16 of his points, and helped the Jaguars build a 22-point lead.
“I just owe it all to my teammates because they could have taken the shot themselves, but they saw I was posting up hard,” White said. “If they hadn’t passed me the ball, I wouldn’t have been able to get my career high tonight.
“I just felt confident. I know I’ve got my team on my back, so as long as I just think about my family and know what I need to do, the flow just keeps going.”
Shouse had a similar stretch in which he made four of six attempts en route to his 13 points. Shouse also had four assists. Whitehead scored 14 for the Jaguars, and Ryce finished with 12 points and four assists.
“We’ve had eight different leading scorers this year, Ronnie being the eighth,” Carpenter said. “We have guys that any given night can step up and lead us in scoring. But none of our guys care. They’re going to go to the hot hand, and we’re going to continue moving the ball and playing together. That’s what’s making this run so much fun.”
Three games remain on the Jaguars’ schedule before the Region 24 tournament. They will play at Lincoln College (17-9, 3-2) on Wednesday and could potentially clinch the M-WAC title at home on February 23 against Lincoln Land (13-13, 0-6).
DACC’s regular season finale will be on the road against John Wood (18-7, 5-2) which currently sits behind the Jaguars in second place. But they aren’t looking too far ahead.
“We just take one game at a time,” Shouse said. “We know that every night somebody wants to beat us. We got used to (knowing) every night someone wants to beat us and knock us off. We’re humble with everything.”