In a contest in which the lead changed hands 24 times, and was tied six times, it was no shocker that it came down to a last-second shot.
With 7.3 seconds left to play in Friday’s Central Lakes Fall Classic, the United Tribes Thunderbirds pushed the ball across midcourt and called timeout with 2.5 seconds left.
On the inbounds pass, UT got the ball to Macaulay Brown, who sliced around the CLC defense for a contested layup that fell through the twine with 9/10ths of a second remaining to give the Thunderbirds a 73-71 win over the host Raiders.
“We just didn’t talk, we didn’t communicate,” Raiders coach Jim Russell said of the final play. “That was the first thing I put on the board before the preseason, and before the game, is communication.
“We had the right guys in there that play hard, but it’s about communication.”
UT threatened to run away in the second half as it seized a 56-46 edge. But the Raiders responded by scoring the next 11 points, nine by Andre Thomas, to inch in front 57-56.
The lead changed hands six times in the final 8-plus minutes. Trailing 71-67, Kevin Kuefler’s second-chance basket and two free throws by Tyler Flugum with 7.6 seconds to play enabled CLC to tie the score for the final time.
Shooting hampered CLC’s effort. The Raiders made just 23 of 73 (32 percent) from the field and attempted 38
threes, sinking just 11 (29 percent). CLC limited its turnovers to 13, but didn’t make its free throws, swishing only 14 of 25.
“Overall, I thought our effort was great, our shots just weren’t going in,” Russell said. “You’ve got to make shots to win.”
Thomas, a 5-8 freshman sparkplug from Chicago, led the Raiders with 17 points, 11 in the second half. Kevin Kuefler added 16 in his first game following knee surgery early last season. Brandon Davis contributed 11 points off the bench and starter John Jedneak contributed 10.
Macaulay Brown led UT, a Division II community college, with 17 points. The Thunderbirds were deadly at the foul line, making 22 of 27 (81 percent).
In the first half, the Thunderbirds committed a whopping 24 turnovers but led 35-33 at the intermission, burying all but one of their 17 free throws and shot a respectable 45 percent (9 of 20) from the floor.
The Raiders, meanwhile, couldn’t locate the basket in the first half, making just 11 of 35 shots (31 percent), including 5 of 23 from 3-point. CLC stayed close with its defense and turning the ball over only eighth times.
“We gave up (16) free throws in the first half and fouled too much,” Russell said. “Like I told the guys in there, there are two things we don’t ever do here. One, we don’t quit in the middle of a play. Two, you must listen during timeouts. If you don’t do those two things you don’t play here.”
Russell played 12 Raiders in his team’s season opener and hopes CLC regroups for Saturday’s 4 p.m. finale against Division I Bismarck State.
“It was our first game, and their third game, but I told the guys to be good, you’ve got to be mentally tough,” Russell said. “Every possession’s got to mean something. I didn’t think we carried that over and over.
“One good thing about basketball is you don’t have to wait another week to play. We play (Saturday) so we can get this taste out of our mouth.”
United Tribes 35 38 — 73
Central Lakes 33 38 — 71
Andre Clark 9, Elijah Bennett 13, Jarell Grant 12, Julito Hutchinson 11, Macaulay Brown 17, Nick Houston 3, Chris Walton 4, Grayson Medicine Cloud 3, Ryan Barker 1. FG 23-54 (43 percent). FT 22-27 (81 percent). Turnovers: 35.
Andre Thomas 17, Tyler Flugum 5, Kevin Kuefler 16, Kahreem Horsley 6, John Jedneak 10, Marcus Brown 3, Brandon Davis 11, Nathan Holm 3. FG 23-73 (32 percent). FT 14-25 (56 percent). Turnovers: 13.
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.