The Port Arthur News
BAYTOWN – Croatian sophomore Ivan Jelencic came from thousands of miles away to make his future in basketball. On Saturday afternoon, there were just a few feet between him and the biggest basket of his collegiate career.
Jelencic led Lamar State College-Port Arthur to a 93-92 win over rival Lee College, hitting a turnaround jumper with 3 seconds left and finishing with a career-best 23 points in a huge NJCAA Region XIV win for the Seahawks.
With the victory, the Hawks (23-5 overall, 13-4 in conference) clinch a first-round bye in the upcoming conference tournament in Tyler.
“When I got the ball in my hands, I knew we didn’t have much time,” Jelencic said. “I turned around and I saw the basket. I felt good about it when I took the shot. I knew I could make that with a soft little scoop.”
After taking the feed from freshman guard Erik Durham, Jelencic took the shot with the ball hanging on the front of the rim for what seemed an eternity. It finally rolled in for the 15th lead change of the final five minutes of the game.
“We have a lot of history with Lee, a lot of personal business to take care of with their players,” Jelencic said. “We wanted to win this one so bad. We worked for this in practice and we came out here tonight and made it happen.”
Lee College led by as many as 19 points in the second half but the Seahawks’ defense did its job in creating turnovers and fast-break opportunities down the stretch. The Hawks trailed until the 5:07 mark when sophomore Tre Bennett hit a pair of free throws after a Lee technical foul to give LSC-PA a 79-78 advantage. A back-and-forth exchange ensued, leading up to the final Jelencic basket for the win.
“We were down at the half and then we came out in the second half and got down by 19,” Jelencic said. “We never thought we couldn’t come back and win it.”
Lee attempted to go the length of the court in the final 3 seconds but a half-court lob missed, sending the throng of Seahawks fans in attendance into a frenzy. As the Lamar State-PA team left the court, fans chanted “Seahawks, Seahawks” in appreciation of the winning efforts by the young men from Port Arthur.
Jelencic and sophomore Jamal Shabazz kept the Seahawks in the game in the first half as they worked the transition game to score and keep Lee from running away. But it was a gutsy performance by sophomore D.J. Blanks that was particularly impressive. Blanks played with his left wrist wrapped, visibly in pain as he tried to catch and throw passes. As guard Tre Bennett had an atypical off night for the Hawks, Blanks stepped up in spite of the injury, scoring seven first-half points and 15 in the game.
“That’s a tough job for both those guys, to do all the ball-handling and be the focus of a strong, physical defense,” Head Coach Lance Madison said. “They both did a great job tonight not just running the offense but scoring points too.”
Bennett finished with 16 points, while Shabazz hit for 14. Sophomore center Anthony Allen added 10 points with eight rebounds. Besides the huge assist that led to the winning basket, Durham had 11 rebounds to go with his 10 points, accounting for the first double-double performance of his collegiate career.
The Seahawks return home Wednesday for their final home game of the 2013-14 season when they take on Jacksonville College at the Carl Parker Center. The game tips off at 7 p.m. with a special ceremony planned for the sophomore players.