NJCAA TOURNAMENT: Jaguars take third

·4 min read

Mar. 28—DANVILLE — One win away from the National Championship game.

That's what the Danville Area Community College Jaguars were thinking about on Saturday as they tried to prepare for the third-place game in the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.

"When you have your heart set on winning it all — winning third doesn't do anything for you," said DACC coach DaJuan Gouard. "Maybe 10 to 15 years down the line, all of us will be able to look back and realize how special this year was."

With that mindset firmly entrenched in his players, Gouard knew he had to do something to help his players.

"I had to take these guys to breakfast. We need to hang with each other. We need to love on each other and we needed to smile a little bit," said Gouard, who didn't even present his scouting report for Orange County, their opponent for Saturday's third-place game. "Honestly, I just tried to deal with their emotions and try to help them out mentally.

"But, thank God, we won it."

Sophomore Ramalle Arnold, one of the most emotional players for the Jaguars on Saturday, scored a game-high 24 points to lead DACC past Orange County 74-65 on the Dick Shockey Court at the Mary Miller Center.

"Before the game, I was getting a little emotional," Arnold said. "My teammates helped me out, stay talking to me, keeping me uplifted. They got me through the game."

According to Gouard, it's that support that allowed DACC to go undefeated the Mid-West Athletic Conference this season and come within a victory of playing for the school's second national title.

"The compassion our guys have for each other has been the secret to our success," he said. "Guys care about each other. Ramalle had 24 points but he could care less about that, because we still wanted something else and that was the bigger trophy."

Arnold agreed.

"I'm happy that we made history," said Arnold, noting that its the best finish for DACC since taking 3rsd in 2000. "But I still feel like we fell short and we left something on the table."

According to DACC sophomore Kendall Taylor, the third-place game with Orange County didn't feel the same as the other games in the National Tournament.

"It was still an opportunity to play, and I'm glad we came out and won, but it was just a little bit different playing in this game than in the one that we were originally planning on playing," said Taylor, who had nine points and five rebounds in the victory.

So, did it ever feel normal?

"In the second half. The first half was honestly bad basketball," said Taylor as DACC still built a 35-27 halftime advantage. "In the second half, Ramalle was able to get going and we were able to take off from there."

There was also a little message from the coaches that helped the Jaguars.

"Just knowing it was the last 20 minutes of the season," Taylor said. "Our coaches talked to us about wanting to remember your legacy as going out with a win."

DACC (27-5) earned this victory in much the same fashion that they won the conference title, the district title and reached the semifinals — solid defense.

"We were just relying on everything we knew, relying on the hard work that we put in this season and the defensive principles we established in August," Gouard said.

Orange County, which entered the National Tournament as the No. 1 scoring offense, was held to a season-low 65 points. The Colts (31-3) was playing their fourth game in as many days.

"Four games in four days is really tough," said Orange County coach Thomas Rickard. "We definitely had tired legs, and we settled. We were gassed. It's hard to get an intense effort in four straight days."

Romeo Aquino, who had 69 points in three tournament games, was also out of the lineup for the Colts because of an ankle injury.

"We weren't going to push him and that was a big blow for us," Rickard said.

The emotions for DACC continued after the game as Arnold was named Jack Cistriano Best Small Award winner and the Jaguars earned the Fred Pohlman Sportsmanship Award.

"Maybe 10 years from now, but it's still going to sting a little bit," said Arnold about this season. "It's still a special thing to be a part of."