Wheelchair basketball wins fourth at nationals

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By Lucas Deal

In the final college tournament for seniors Adam Lancia, Jeff Townsend and Ivory Harris, the Illinois wheelchair basketball team took fourth place in the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament last Friday in Arlington, Texas.

The Illini opened the tournament well, beating Southwest Minnesota State 77-23 on Thursday, but were beaten in the national semi-finals by the hosts, the Texas-Arlington Mavericks, sending them into the third-place game against Edinboro University.

The Rolling Scots had a successful season but had never in their school’s history beaten Illinois, making their 55-49 upset of the Illini all the more shocking.

“Edinboro was still playing for what in their minds was their national championship,” said Illini head coach Mike Frogley. “They had never finished higher than fourth before.”

The entire tournament, the Illini looked off. They got off to a slow start in the first round against SMS but quickly righted the ship en route to the big win. Townsend led the Illini with 26 points and 15 rebounds, while Denny Muha added 21 points and six assists.

Enter Texas-Arlington. The cocky hosts and No. 2-seeded Mavericks had already guaranteed victory over the Illini at a press conference on Thursday evening, telling the local media to prepare to see them and Wisconsin-Whitewater in the championship game.

It was a bold statement, but Arlington backed it up well and beat the Illini 61-44 to advance to the finals against Whitewater – just as they predicted.

“We started off okay,” Frogley said. “But we missed a couple of easy scoring opportunities that would have put us up. Then we came out, and in the first three minutes of the second half, we turned the ball over six times. That got them a double-digit lead and put us in a hole. You can’t do that against a team of that quality.”

In addition to bad ball handling, poor defense and rebounding also proved to make a difference. UTA hit 46 percent of their shots and out rebounded the Illini by five.

Even with the loss, Frogley still believed that his team was more than capable of equaling their finish from last year in the third-place game.

“I really thought that we would come out, and we would bounce back,” Frogley said. “There have been a couple times in the past when this team has been in that situation where we had bounced back. But we didn’t.”

Still down after the Arlington loss, the Illini fell behind 22-18 at halftime in the third-place game. The four-point deficit quickly became 11 early in the second half, and the Illini couldn’t recover.

“We didn’t come out and rebound with the kind of emotion and intensity that we needed to,” Frogley said. “We put a run on them late in the second half, but it was too little too late.”

In their final game, Lancia and Townsend combined for 35 of Illinois’ 49 points, and each shot 8 for 20 from the field. The rest of the Illini weren’t nearly as successful, hitting only 7 of 28 shots for 14 points.

“The guys have to learn from this, and they have to remember what it takes to bring effort, and what happens when you don’t bring effort,” Frogley said. “It’s not about winning and losing in this instance, it’s about walking away from the game knowing that you gave your best effort.”