The Southeastern Community College men's basketball team was watching its season slowly slip away.
As Northeast erased the Blackhawks' seemingly comfortable 18-point halftime lead, the Blackhawks needed someone — anyone — to step up and save the day — and the season.
Freshman guard DeAndre Barton came to the rescue. His jumper in the lane banked in with 1 minute, 25 seconds left proved to be the key basket — perhaps of the season — and his two free throws 1:17 later sealed SCC's 68-65 win over Northeast in a Region XI game the Blackhawks had to have on Saturday night at Loren Walker Arena.
With three straight road games — at Iowa Western on Wednesday, Iowa Central on Saturday and Indian Hills on Jan, 31 — in the next 11 days, SCC could ill afford to lose a home game. They held on to win a game in which they were outplayed in the second half.
"We were thinking, 'Keep the lead up and keep playing hard,'" Barton said. "It didn't work out, so we had to battle it out at the end. It was tough, but we got through it."
"It's the worst thing ever," SCC hed coach Lorenzo Watkins said. "It's the nonchalant attitude, just hanging back, thinking they're going to lay down. That's been the hardest thing to get our guys to understand this year is respecting the other team."
"We had a chance," Northeast coach Dan Anderson said. "We didn't come up with a rebound down here. We were a bit slow starting. They responded in the second half. They're a good bunch of guys. We could be pretty good."
SCC (18-4 overall, 2-1 Region XI) overcame a sluggish start to both halves. The Blackhawks, who led, 46-28, at halftime, shot a paltry 30.8 percent from the field in the second half, managing just 22 points in the final 20 minutes.
When you are up 18, those are the hardest games to play," Watkins said. "They are going to come out and start freelancing, just playing at a different level than what they started the game. Our guys were on our heels. They got a lot more physical with us in the second half with no resistance inside."
Northeast (12-8, 0-2) trailed, 56-39, after a slam dunk by Rodney Johnson with 13:59 left in the game. The Hawks then went on a 20-3 run to knot the game at 59 with 4:32 left. Steve Wooten, after a quiet first half, came to life after intermission, scoring 14 of his game-high 21 points in the second half.
"The first half, I have some freshman who are not used to playing in big-boy ball games," Anderson said. "They have to learn because sophomores make a big difference in junior college. Steve Wooten settled in in the second half and he was a load for Burlington to handle. He grew from that and it made him better."
Northeast, which leads Region XI in free-throw attempts, got to the line a whopping 39 times, sinking 29.
"They did what they are supposed to do and that's what they lead the conference in — free-throw makes and attempts," Watkins said. "That;'s how they got back in the game."
SCC, which got just four points from its three post players, got two big ones from Brandon Miller, whose shot in the lane gave SCC a 64-63 edge with 2:49 left.
Barton, who stepped up his game in the absence of injured point guard Ramiir Dixon-Conover, sank a bank shot in the lane, then made two free throws.
"Coach told me to keep attacking. He said, 'Play strong and go through his body,'" Barton said. "I stayed strong and I finished. Thank God."
"The one that almost broke the backboard?" Watkins said. "Yeah, that one with the shot clock running down, the timing of it was great. It was what we needed at the time."
Northeast had a chance to tie the game after both Kourtney Ware and Patrick Jackson went 0-for-2 from the free-throw line, but Allen Anderson's 3-pointer from the left wing fell short.
Ware almost single-handedly kept the Blackhawks in the game in the first half. He scored 13 of his 15 points in a 5:28 stretch in which SCC stretched a one-point lead into a 10-point bulge.
"He was moving without the ball. He was getting to the basket," Watkins said. "If we're patient on offense, we're going to get easier shots."
With three road games against three nationally-ranked teams, Watkins knows SCC will have to play better. The next three games will either make or break the Blackhawks' season.
"It was big because we have another game coming on the road that we have to win," Barton said. "We got a win and it was really big."
"We started the send half like we started the game. We can't do that," Watkins said. "For us to score 22 points in the second half and not being patient against the zone ... we have to be better on Wednesday."
Steve Wooten 5-12 11-14 21, Melkisedek Moreaux 5-15 9-11 19, Allen Anderson 1-9 3-4 5, Brandon Villalpando 0-2 0-0 0, Jeremiah Coddon 4-13 3-6 13, Moses Byekwaso 1-6 3-4 3, Jaquan Sanders 1-4 0-0 1, Majok Kur 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 17-62 29-39 65.
Alier Riak 0-3 0-0 0, Brandon Miller 1-3 0-2 2, Patrick Jackson 4-12 1-4 9, DeAndre Barton 4-11 6-6 15, Kourtney Ware 5-13 3-5 15, Ramiir Dixon-Conover 4-8 2-2 10, Martin Lakovic 2-3 1-2 5, Rodney Johnson 2-3 0-0 4, Victor Nwagbaraocha 2-5 2-2 6, Niklas Nikolic 1-1 0-1 2. Totals: 25-62 15-24 68.
Halftime: SCC 46, Northeast 28. Fouls: Northeast 22, SCC 24. Fouled out: Moreaux. Technicals: None. 3-point goals: Northeast 2-15 (Coddon 2-7, Byekwaso 0-1, Sanders 0-1, Villalpando 0-1, Anderson 0-5), SCC 3-16 (Ware 2-8, Barton 1-2, Dixon-Conover 0-2, Jackson 0-4). Rebounds: Northeast 45 (Moreaux 18), SCC 45 (Miller 15). Assists: Northeast 8 (Sanders 4), SCC 17 (Jackson 7). Steals: Northeast 14 (Coddon 3), SCC 13 (Barton 2, Dixon-Conover 2). Blocks: Northeast 4 (Kur 2), SCC 5 (Riak 2, Lakovic 2). Turnovers: Northeast 16 (Moreaux 5), SCC 14 (Barton 5).
Records: Northeast 12-8 overall (0-2 Region XI), SCC 18-4 (2-1).