When the Central Lakes College Raiders played in the NJCAA Division III tournament in 2008 they lost three games by a combined 16 points.
The Raiders hope to reverse their fortunes Thursday when they open against SUNY of Delhi, N.Y., at Loch Sheldrake, N.Y.
“A lot of coaches I don’t think understand that this team is more of a team than it is individuals,” CLC coach Jim Russell said. “It’s easy to stop individuals. A lot of people have a hard time preparing to stop us because we play well as a team.
“Our game plan is to continue to attack the other team, make them make adjustments to us.”
Ranked No. 1 for much of season, CLC (27-3) is currently ranked second. SUNY (28-5) enters the 8-team tournament tied for the No. 4 ranking.
“I do know they’re very athletic, they’re well-coached, very disciplined,” Russell said. “They like to keep the score low. That gives them an opportunity to win games.
“They do the little things that a lot of schools don’t do. They play defense, pressure the ball well, but what I think is most important is they rebound well. Those things give them an opportunity to win.”
Russell’s Raiders win with a combination of sizzling shooting and stingy defense. In the regular season, CLC shot 49 percent from the field while averaging 86.8 points. The Raiders allowed just 61.7 points per game, second-fewest in the Minnesota College Athletic Association.
Maurice Hernandez, a physical, versatile 6-4 sophomore from St. Paul, led the Raiders and the Southern Division in scoring (17.9) and rebounding (7.9). He averaged 54-percent shooting from the field, 37 percent from 3-point.
The Raiders’ other leaders include guard Ronnie Kornbaum, a sophomore from Little Falls, who led the division in 3-point shooting (.432). Jesse Fleming, freshman from Phoenix, led the division in shooting (.625). Michael Farrington, freshman from Milwaukee, led the division in assists (7.4) and steals (3.2).
In addition, Farrington shot 52 percent from the field. Brandon Davis, freshman from Champlin Park, shot 51 percent from the field. Kwamaine Johnson, sophomore from Phoenix, averaged 2.2 steals and 3.1 assists.
The Raiders’ only Achilles heel is the free throw line where they average only 58 percent.
In the MCAC/Region 13 tournament, CLC beat Mesabi Range 72-57, Anoka-Ramsey 65-51 and Fergus Falls 84-66 to qualify for nationals.
“We feel pretty good to win three in a row in the state/region,” Russell said. “This team has set some pretty high standards, high goals. To accomplish those things says a lot about their character.
“Going into this tournament, No. 1, the coaches aren’t so green. It’s our second time around. No. 2, the biggest compliment to this team from another coach was how determined we were. That word alone says a lot about these guys. Going into this tournament, hopefully, we’re carrying that determination, to reach another goal they set.”
SUNI scouting report
Top players for SUNI include Jonathan Annan (12.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 2.1 spg); John Brown (12.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.0 spg); and Quayshaun Mitchell (8.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 36.3 3-point field goal percentage.
Other quarterfinal games Thursday match 10th-ranked Milwaukee Area Technical College (22-11) against No. 7 Cedar Valley College, Texas, (21-8) at noon; top-ranked Brookdale CC, N.J., (27-2) against No. 6 Sandhills CC, N.C., (25-6) at 5 p.m.; No. 3 Roxbury CC, Mass., (22-3) against No. 4 Bronx, N.Y., CC at 7 p.m.
Loch Sheldrake is about 90 miles west of New York City. CLC flew to NYC on Monday and was scheduled to spend some time there Monday and Tuesday.
“It will be something that I don’t think these kids will ever forget,” Russell said. “People don’t realize all of this is an educational opportunity.”