Small College Sports

Kirkwood men's basketball claims third national championship

Eagles beat Johnson County 64-58 in NJCAA D-II title game

Kirkwood’s Devonte Thedford (center, left) celebrates with Jamal Stephenson after a win at home earlier this month. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Kirkwood’s Devonte Thedford (center, left) celebrates with Jamal Stephenson after a win at home earlier this month. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DANVILLE, Ill. — Kirkwood defeated Johnson County 64-58 in a thrilling championship game of the 2019 NJCAA Division II men’s basketball tournament Saturday night at Dick Shockey Court and the Mary Miller Complex on the campus of Danville Area Community College.

Kirkwood had two previous championships in Danville, one in 1998 and most recently in 2016, while the Cavaliers took home the title in 2009. This is the second year in a row that the top two seeds have played for the title.

The Eagles took an early lead on the Cavaliers and maintained that advantage, 33-26, heading into halftime. The Eagles forged ahead in the early stages of the second half, taking a 15-point lead and it appeared they would run away with the title.

However, Johnson County did not give up and began to claw away at the Kirkwood lead, getting the deficit under double digits and as close as two points late in the contest.

Leading the way for Kirkwood was Doug Wilson, who scored a game-high 30 points and added 15 rebounds for a monster double-double. Devonte Thedford added 15 points, while Luke Appel chipped in seven for the Eagles, who finish the season with a 31-4 record and their third national championship.

“This is the ending to a great season, and we’ve had a great run,” Wilson said. “My teammates mean everything to me, and this was a great group to be a part of. Even when they (Johnson County) got close, we never let them totally take over.”

Wilson finished the game 13 of 23 from the field.

Kirkwood shot 25 of 57 (44 percent) for the game, which included 3 of 10 from beyond the arc. The Eagles shot well from the free-throw line, making 11 of their 12 attempts. Kirkwood won the rebounding battle over Johnson County, 36-32, and committed 12 turnovers, as compared to 13 for Johnson County.

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The Cavaliers were led in scoring by David Turner with 19 points. JaQuaylon Mays added 13 points, while A.J. Pleasant scored 10 for Johnson County, who shot 23 of 57 from the field, including 6 of 18 from long range, and fared well from the free-throw line, making 6 of their 7 attempts.

Representing the Eagles on the all-tournament team were Wilson, Thedford and Allante Pickens. Wilson was also named the MVP of the tournament.

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