BY CHAD DARE
Danville Area Community College men’s basketball coach Mike Carpenter has called his sophomore point guard Chris Whitehead a bulldog.
On Wednesday night, it was an appropriate description.
Whitehead sunk his teeth into the Rend Lake guards and spearheaded DACC’s come-from-behind 66-62 victory in a matchup of nationally ranked teams.
“We didn’t play very good defense in the first half and part of that was on me,’’ said Whitehead, who had 11 points, six assists and three steals in the final 20 minutes as DACC turned a 13-point deficit (39-26) into a its 10th straight victory. “We were letting them do what they wanted to do in the first half, and that starts with me. When I let the point guard do whatever he wants do to, it rubs off on everyone else.
“When I’m putting pressure on the point guard, it lets my team know we had to play defense and get it turned around.’’
Carpenter admitted that he challenged Whitehead at halftime to pick up his intensity on the defensive end.
“To our kids credit, it wasn’t any Xs or Os or great coaching moves on our part, our kids came out and played as hard as they possibly could in the second half,’’ Carpenter said. “We defended better, we rebounded and we did all the things we talked about before the game.
“Chris really ignited that run with his defense on the ball. I singled him out at halftime and said if we were going to do this, it was up to him.
“When he does that our defense, as a group, and our intensity picks up. His pressure on the ball started things, and then we started making shots and they started missing shots.’’
The 12th-rated Jaguars, who improved to 21-3 with the victory, trailed by as much as 16 in the first half.
“Rend Lake came out and took the fight to us, they jumped on us early and for the first time this season we got back on our heels,’’ Carpenter said. “Luckily, we made it in halftime only down 13.’’
DACC sophomore Derek Shouse, who had a game-high 20 points, capped the first half with a 3-pointer close the deficit to 39-26.
The Jaguars opened the second half with a 16-1 run, making seven of nine shots to take a 42-40 lead. It was the first lead of the game for DACC.
“We didn’t come out like we wanted to, we weren’t defending, and on offense, it was one pass and a shot,’’ said Shouse as DACC shot a very poor 34.4 percent in the first half. “In the second half, we played better defense and we started swinging the ball on offense. It opened things up for us.
“Chris got the ball moving, Evan (Blackmon) and I started hitting the shots that we couldn’t get to go down in the first half.’’
While the Jaguars turned the game around in a positive fashion, it was just the opposite for the sixth-rated Warriors.
Rend Lake, which falls to 16-3 overall, shot a dismal 25 percent (7-of-28) in the second half and the Warriors committed 11 turnovers leading directly to 15 points for the Jaguars.
“We didn’t make good decisions,’’ Rend Lake coach Randy House said. “We didn’t play with much effort, for whatever reason. When you do that, you’re not going to win.
“We’re a good basketball team and we’re really good when we play hard. When we don’t play hard, we’re average. It’s a 40-minute game and we have to sustain our effort for 40 minutes and we didn’t do that tonight.’’
In spite of their second-half problems, Rend Lake still had a 60-59 lead with 1 minute, 8 seconds left in the contest.
But Whitehead made four straight free throws sandwiched around one of his game-high four steals to give DACC a 63-60 lead.
“We were down by 13 at half, but we knew the game wasn’t over,’’ Whitehead said. “We just had to start playing our game.’’
After the Warriors pulled back within one (63-62) on a basket by Trice Whaley, Shouse knocked down a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left and Mike Ryce sealed the win by making 1-of-2 free throws with just 1.7 seconds left.
“I’m proud of the way that we kept our composure, and fought back,’’ Carpenter said.
The victory was not only pivotal in the region standings as Rend Lake and DACC battle for the top seed in the Region 24 Tournament, but it was a little bit of revenge for the Jaguars.
“I know for the guys that we’re here last year, this game was big because we wanted to make up for last year,’’ said Shouse as Rend Lake defeated DACC 78-40 in Ina.
In addition to the victory, freshman center Ronnie White set a career record for blocked shots on Wednesday to go along with his season record.
White, who had a game-high 5 rejections, has blocked 84 shots this season, eclipsing the previous school record of 82 by Matt Sisley, who play at DACC from 1990-92.
The Jaguars return to Mid-West Athletic Conference action on Saturday when DACC hosts Parkland in a 4 p.m. contest at the Mary Miller Gymnasium.