No. 8 Parkland Men's Basketball clinched its fourth Mid-West Athletic Conference title in the last five seasons on Wednesday evening with a 70-59 victory over visiting Illinois Central. Sophomore guard Yaakema Rose Jr. led the Cobras with 16 points as Parkland improved to 22-3 on the season, 7-1 in conference.
After not having won a conference title in the history of the M-WAC prior to 2014-15, the Cobras have finished atop the conference in four of the last five years. Winning seven of its eight conference games in 2019, the Cobras will finish at least one game clear of second place John Wood, who is 5-2 with one conference game remaining.
Shooting 48.1 percent as a team on Wednesday, including 47.1 percent from the three, the Cobras were led offensively by 16 points and four assists from Rose. In his fifth straight double-digit scoring performance, Rose knocked down five shots, including two threes, and converted four of his six free throw attempts. The other Cobra in double figures was guard Charles Campbell Jr. with 10 points. Forwards Joey Saracco and Bruno Williams Jr. each added in eight points.
Trailing Illinois Central for much of Wednesday's first half, the Cobras fell behind early, 18-11, behind cold shooting and second-chance buckets from the Cougars. Five straight points from Williams cut the lead back down to two, 18-16, and then a three from Tommy Makabu three minutes later brought the Cobras even, 24-24, with 5:28 remaining. Trading buckets, the Cobras trailed 30-28 with three minutes left. From threre, the Cobras would hold the visitors without a point for the remainder of the half as part of a 9-0 run. Taking their first lead of the game on a Rose Jr. three, 31-30, and then hit four straight free throws before a Ty Walter Jr. hit a jumper to conclude the run.
Parkland extended the Cougars scoring drought for two-and-a-half minutes into the second half, as a pair of free throws pushed the lead out nine, 39-30. Taking a double-digit lead with 15 minutes left in the game on a layup by point guard Ty'Ohn Trimble, the Cobras maintained the 10-plus point advantage for the remainder of the night. A 9-2 run over the next three-plus minutes, highlighted by five points from Campbell, gave the Cobras their biggest lead of the game, 53-36. The Cougars would cut their deficit back to 11 with 9:39 left, but wouldn't get any closer as the Cobras closed out their seventh conference victory.
Leading the Cobras to a 22-3 overall record and M-WAC title is a stingy defense that ranks among the best in NJCAA Division II. Holding opponents to the third lowest points-per-game average (64.9) nationally, Cobra opponents are shooting just 41.0 percent from the field, good for 21st lowest in the country. A part of the low field goal percentage is an average of 4.2 blocks per contest that sits 24th nationally.
Offensively, Parkland prides itself on taking care of the ball with its 10.8 turnovers per game ranking 11th in the NJCAA. With the ball security, Parkland is hitting 47.1 percent of their shots – 29th in NJCAA – and is grabbing 14.0 offensive rebounds per game to rank 31st. Individually, two Cobras are averaging double digit scoring, as Rose leads the team at 15.4 PPG followed by Williams at 11.9 PPG. Trimble's 9.7 points per game falls just shy of double digits to go along with a team-high 4.3 assists per contest.
Up next, Parkland will next look to lock up the top seed in next week's Region 24 tournament on Saturday in their regular season finale against Rend Lake at 3 p.m. central time. Both 7-2 in Region 24, the Cobras and Warriors are tied for top spot with John Wood (6-3) one game back.