CARTERVILLE -- Entering their showdown Saturday afternoon, John A. Logan College and Southwestern Illinois College were tied for first place at the top of the Great Rivers Athletic Conference standings.
The game on the court certainly lived up to the billing.
Logan delivered the first blow but trailed by eight points with six minutes left before closing the game on a 20-2 run to beat Southwestern, 87-81, in an entertaining thriller at Brewer Gymnasium.
"I'm just very proud of our guys from the standpoint that we didn't fold and we had chances to," said Logan coach Kyle Smithpeters. "That's growth and progress that we've been hoping to see all year from this group, especially against a great quality team like (SWIC)."
Logan is now 23-5 and 13-3 in the GRAC, while SWIC dropped to 22-6 and 12-4. The Blue Storm won the first meeting in Belleville on a shot at the buzzer, but now Logan has the league lead with two games remaining.
The Vols jumped out to leads of 7-0 and 18-8 with big shots from Jaiveon Eaves, Ronnie Carson and Derek Hawthorne Jr., but the Storm pulled to within 22-20 and did it with starting point guard Braden Fitzjerrells in the locker room tending to an injury.
Fitzjerrells returned and the Vols went back up by nine at 29-20 on an alley-oop dunk by Hawthorne, but Fitzjerrells, the former Mt. Vernon standout, scored 12 points before the break and helped SWIC surge to a 46-41 halftime lead.
SWIC led 58-51 in the second half after a dunk by Jaalam Hill, then Logan tied it at 58 with a five points from Hawthorne and a tip-in by Eaves. A three-point play by Fitzjerrells started a run by the Storm that produced a 70-61 lead, a run capped by a three-point play from Javonte Perkins.
Southwestern was ahead 79-67 following a 3-pointer from Oliver Stephens, but then Logan outscored the Storm with an amazing 20-2 run the rest of the way.
The streak started with baskets from Eaves and a foul-plagued Vonnie Patterson, then freshman standout David Sloan took over, first feeding Patterson for a basket then hitting three straight clutch shots.
Sloan canned a triple to tie it at 79 with 2:36 left, then hit a floater to put Logan in front at the 1:58 mark. After a steal and layup by SWIC's Destan Williams knotted it again at 81, Hawthorne drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner with 52.6 seconds left.
"We weren't trying to hit home runs," Smithpeters said. "We were running the clock and making them guard us, then really sitting down and guarding them defensively."
Fitzjerrells missed a pair of 3-point tries and the Vols sealed it with free throws from Hawthorne and Patterson.
"Since I've been here, I don't remember a better poise of a group down the stretch in a big-time game," Smithpeters said. "We were down seven points with five minutes to go. You go from down seven to winning by six, we had seven stops in a row in the last five minutes. That's really putting your foot down and grinding."
Hawthorne led all scorers with 22 points and also had a team-high eight rebounds. Eaves had 16 points and Sloan finished with 13 points and six assists. Romelo Burrell added nine points, while Carson and Patterson both had eight.
Perkins led four SWIC players in double figures with 20 points. Fitzjerrells had 18.
Logan plays at Wabash Valley on Tuesday, then finishes the regular season at home Friday against Kaskaskia.