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Men’s College Basketball: Prairie State turnaround results in share of Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference title

Updated: February 27, 2014 4:48PM



On Jan. 16, Prairie State lost to Oakton and fell to 4-13. Most people would have assumed it safe to declare the Pioneers’ season was going nowhere.

Fast forward six weeks, and Prairie State has completed one of the unlikeliest conference championship runs imaginable.

The Pioneers have gone 11-3 since Jan. 16 and sat at 15-16 through Wednesday. Their 9-5 mark in the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference was good enough to earn a share of the program’s first conference title.

“It’s a credit to the kids’ perseverance,” Prairie State coach Mike Manderino said. “They didn’t quit. They hung in there and got better every day.”

Prairie State wrapped up its regular-season slate Feb. 20, beating Elgin, and seemed destined to finish in a tie for second in the Skyway.

Instead, a struggling Elgin squad stunned Morton on Saturday, denying Morton’s chance to win the league outright. Thus, the Pioneers, Morton and Oakton all earned a share of the crown.

“It was surprising, but I knew if Elgin was shooting well, they had a chance,” Manderino said. “They hit 13 three-pointers, so I guess they were shooting well.”

The Skyway title is the sixth in Prairie State history and the third in a men’s sport.

Getting back Thornwood product Joe Hughes (18.1 ppg) and Morgan Park alum A.J. Jeffries (13.1 ppg) after they suffered injuries early in the season has been a boon for the Pioneers.

The Pioneers were set to open NJCAA Region IV play Thursday, hosting a quarterfinal against Black Hawk East.

“We have a sense of confidence right now, but we’re respectful of every team we’re going to play,” Manderino said. “We know in order for us to win we have to play harder than our opponent.”

St. Xavier moves on

St. Xavier opened the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament on Wednesday with an 84-61 win over St. Francis.

Brad Karp finished with 25 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Cougars (27-4), ranked seventh in NAIA Division II. Josh Mawhorr added 13 points and six rebounds.

The CCAC’s final four will compete on the home court of top seed Cardinal Stritch in Milwaukee. St. Xavier will take on Roosevelt in Friday night’s semifinals, with the title game set for Saturday.

St. Francis finished the season with a 15-15 record.

Tourney watch for Lewis

The NCAA last week released its initial Division II regional rankings, and Lewis — ranked No. 18 in the nation — was ranked sixth in the Midwest.

The top eight teams in the final Midwest rankings will advance to the NCAA Tournament.

The Flyers (21-4 through Wednesday) had won six of their previous seven games through Wednesday, the lone loss coming to top-ranked Drury (Mo.).

Lewis has victories over Southern Indiana (No. 4 in Midwest rankings) and Truman State (No. 7).



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