OTTUMWA, Iowa – Vincennes University Hall of Fame Head Coach Todd Franklin earned his 700th career victory as an NJCAA Head Coach Saturday night with the No. 3-ranked Trailblazers pulling off a last second comeback and winning at the buzzer 81-79 over Sauk Valley Community College.
Franklin becomes the 25th men’s basketball head coach to win 700 games at the Junior College level and is one of eight active NJCAA Head Coaches to achieve this milestone in any Division.
Franklin’s career coaching record sits at 700 wins and 176 losses over 27 seasons, recording 330 wins at Southeastern Illinois Community College and 370 wins and counting at Vincennes University.
“I don’t know what this milestone means other than I’m old,” VU Hall of Fame Head Coach Todd Franklin said. “I like the fact that we’ve won about 80 percent. That’s a big thing in that. We’ve done it without compromising. We’ve always taken good guys and I like the way we’ve done it, so I’m proud of it. I’m proud of the guys that we’ve had over the years to do it and I think those guys take pride in it. I’m for sure, but I think we might have been one of the quickest to get to 700 in terms of years or age both.”
“We’ve done a lot of winning,” Franklin added. “We’ve had a lot of great kids, great players, great guys. That’s why we’ve won. The players make plays, we just try to put them in a position to try to get them right. We’ve had good players that have gotten better and improved and much like tonight, they have fought. We’ve had a lot of wins where we’ve fought our way through it. We’ve always taken on the best teams. The 700 means something because we haven’t done it with a whole lot of JV and Prep games. We’ve taken the heavyweights on since back when we were at Southeastern and we wanted anybody, anywhere, any time.”
“We wanted to show who we were before anybody knew who we were,” Franklin said. “And when you get one of these things happen like this, I always think back to those guys. Those guys that were with me back in that corn field. I love them. Those dudes that were in that corn field, they are the toughest people I’ve ever been around and the best people I’ve ever been around. They built our basketball family and then we brought it over to Vincennes and I think we’ve done a pretty good job here when you look at it overall and hopefully we’ve got more in us.”
“I don’t know if I can get to 800 or not, this is getting harder all the time,” Franklin added. “But I’m happy for the guys that have played for us because I think that they take pride in what we do and all I am is the person who gets the accolades. But this is about our basketball family. Our basketball family won our 700th here tonight.”
The Trailblazers looked to bounce back after Friday night’s overtime loss to No. 14 Indian Hills Community College and it began with a shake up in the starting lineup for the Blazers.
Freshmen Damarien Yates (Somerville, Tenn.) and Mathieu Nader-Kalombo (Longueuil, Quebec) cracking the starting five for Vincennes Saturday.
This rotation change looked to pay off early against the Skyhawks with VU building a 19-12 lead midway through the opening half.
Sauk Valley would answer back however, outscoring the Blazers 25-8 to take a 37-27 lead.
SVCC would keep the lead in double figures heading into the halftime break, leading the Trailblazers 43-33 after 20 minutes of play.
Vincennes again battled in the second half, but were unable to fully take the lead back, cutting the deficit down to five before Sauk Valley answered to get their lead back up to nine.
VU would cut the deficit down to four before the Skyhawks answered to score seven unanswered and take a 66-55 lead.
Sauk Valley looked to be in complete control late, holding a 76-64 lead, their largest lead of the game.
Vincennes then ramped up the defensive pressure, trailing by six with just over a minute remaining.
VU forced back-to-back Skyhawk turnovers which resulted in three-point plays by sophomores Kris King (Washington, D.C.) and Michael Osei-Bonsu (Bolingbrook, Ill.) to even the score at 79-79.
The Trailblazers then held the ball with just under 30 seconds remaining, opting to run off as much of the shot clock as possible before attempting a last second shot.
After a VU miss, the Blazers won the scramble for the rebound, swung the ball around the perimeter where it found the hands of Damarien Yates who hit a jumper at the buzzer to give the Blazers the 81-79 victory over Sauk Valley.
“It was tough sledding tonight,” Franklin said. “I thought we started decent in the first five or six minutes of the game. We were scoring pretty well then, they were just hard for us to guard. We were a step slow and they are quick and they were on and when they’re on, they are a tough team. They were for us tonight. I don’t know if it was us playing a late game last night in overtime, end of finals week, there are a lot of things that we could use as an excuse but the bottom line is, they were quicker than we were tonight for a lot of the game.”
“They were quicker to the ball and just quicker in a lot of areas,” Franklin added. “For most of the first half that was true, I thought they were a little quicker in the second half but I thought we played better than they did the entire second half. We just couldn’t get over the hump. We knew we were going to have to score some tonight. Sauk Valley, when they are making shots, can be a hard team to guard and we were struggling in a couple of spots with confidence from our shooters. We could get open shots and we just had guys that turned it down a bit. Sometimes when one guy is hitting, you are a whole lot better. Sometimes if they’re not, it changes the game and there was a lot of that going on out there tonight.”
“I thought we got our footing when we went to a couple of actions,” Franklin said. “We were chipping with Kris and were able to get into a two-man game with him and Lebron at the top of that zone. It helped stretch some of those seams and make them a little longer with two guys that I thought could do some stuff and then I thought we would get the ball inside some. I didn’t get as much of that and it became Kris finding a good seam to attack and as he started to get some confidence in that, we decided to stay with it and that was good to us in the last five or six minutes.”
“Then, we were within range but couldn’t get over the hump until we went to a press,” Franklin added. “We pressed them with Damarien being at the front of it. He is going to get big and long and quick to it, plus they hadn’t seen it. So if you haven’t seen it and you get up on it, I think it rattled them a little bit. Damarien’s long and the guys got up and got energized and did a good job and that turned it. We stayed with the same actions the whole time down the stretch and Kris made some good plays. The last play he got a pretty good look and missed but we stayed hungry on the glass and got the ball. I didn’t want to call timeout. I knew we had one, but I thought the ball was hot. I thought we were going to get a good look. Whether we made it or not, they way it was moving and where we were and they were scrambling and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong and tonight we ended up being right because Damarien made the shot.”
The Trailblazers were led offensively by Damarien Yates, who finished with a game-high 23 points on a perfect six of six shooting from the floor, while also grabbing four rebounds and getting a pair of steals.
Sophomore Kris King came off the bench to add 18 points, including hitting three from behind the three-point arc.
Sophomore Michael Osei-Bonsu controlled the inside game offensively to finish his night with 16 points and seven rebounds.
“Those three guys carried us offensively,” Franklin said. “I think they got most of our makes and we got a lot of misses from other spots. Damarien is a guy that we knew had the ability. He’s starting to make a turn. I thought he was a big part of us last night turning the game around and rallying and I really felt like we should have gotten out of there with a win. He was a big part of that. He didn’t have huge stats, but he was a big part of that. He stepped up there and missed a couple of free throws late, you do that sometimes when you’re a freshmen and it’s about how you bounce back from that. Good players bounce back from that and he did. I think he’s going to be a good player. He’s got a lot of learning and growth to go. He’ll be a whole lot better player in March than he is right now if he works his tail off. But you can see that he’s got some things there. Some things that we need and he was big tonight”
The Trailblazers will look to continue this momentum into next weekend when VU begins Region 24 play Saturday, Dec. 16 at Shawnee Community College in Ullin, Ill. Tip-off time Saturday is set for 4 p.m. eastern.
This will be the second to last game for the Blazers during the 2023 portion of their schedule, returning to the Physical Education Complex to close out 2023 Wednesday, Dec. 20 to face Southwest Tennessee Community College at 7 p.m. eastern.
“We need practice right now,” Franklin said. “We need to get in and go to work. It’s great to get a win. We could have gotten two this weekend and we could have gotten none. The competition level this weekend was high. We’ve played a tremendous schedule and to take this on, I knew when we took this on and I scheduled it, with finals week right before, that this was not a smart thing to do. But we needed to do it for scheduling purposes, so we’ll learn from it.”
“We got out of here with one of the two and the other one we took Indian Hills to overtime,” Franklin added. “Now we’ve just got to go back and get to work. We’ll have no school now this next week, so we have a chance to get in and get some work done. I don’t know if we will. I think the guys know that we need to. I know that we need to and we need to for a big game next Saturday to open up Region play on the road at Shawnee. It’s a tough, long trip. Mid-afternoon game, all that. We can’t worry about all of that. We can’t worry about rankings and polls. We have to worry about getting better. So that’s the state of affairs for us right now.”
VINCENNES BOX SCORE
VINCENNES (81): Damarien Yates 6-6 9-12 23, Mathieu Nader-Kalombo 1-5 2-2 5, Ryan Oliver 2-8 1-3 5, Kent King 2-6 0-2 5, Michael Osei-Bonsu 6-7 4-7 16, Gerard Thomas 0-3 1-2 1, Kris King 7-12 1-1 18, Lebron Thomas 2-13 1-1 6, Karyiek Dixon 1-2 0-0 2, Team 27-62 19-30 81.
Sauk Valley – 43 36 – 79
VU (11-1) – 33 48 – 81
Three-point goals: VU 8 (Kr. King 3, Yates 2, Nader-Kalombo, Ke. King, L. Thomas). Rebounds: VU 31 (Osei-Bonsu 7). Assists: VU 21 (L. Thomas 6). Steals: VU 8 (Yates 2, Oliver 2, G. Thomas 2). Blocked Shots: VU 4 (L. Thomas 2). Turnovers: VU 7. Personal Fouls: VU 21. Fouled out: None.