With the game on the line, Central Lakes College needed someone to step up.
Two players took the reins for the Raiders — Andre Thomas and Tyler Flugum.
With five minutes left in the second half, and CLC tied with Riverland at 71, Tyler Flugum hit consecutive three-pointers to pull the Raiders to a late lead.
“I was feeling it, and wasn’t trying to force it,” said Flugum, who totaled 24 points and hit seven of 11 from the behind the arc. “I was just trying to do my best for my team.”
Thomas then maneuvered the lane and sunk a layup, drawing a foul and hitting the free throw to push the Raiders to an 80-71 lead with three minutes left.
The Blue Devils mounted a small rally with a 6-0 run, but Thomas put the game away with a deep, contested three-pointer with a minute left.
“I needed to step up for my team,” said Thomas, who finished with 22 points (5 threes) and six steals.
The Raiders started the game the same way they finished it — with three-pointers by Flugum and Thomas.
Though they were forced into a lot of unbalanced and contested shots, the Raiders managed to push the ball well in the first half. Thomas got hot early, coupling 16 points with tenacious defense, as CLC finished the half with a 13-4 run.
After shooting 60 percent from the floor, and 62 percent from the arc in the first half, it was no surprise that CLC owned a 52-38 lead.
“Shooting was good. Offensively, it was good to see that come through,” said Raiders head coach Jim Russell.
“We were fortunate to make shots and get some good looks,” CLC assistant coach Scott Savor said.
The defense wasn’t disappointing either, using an effective press to force 10 turnovers in the first half and limit Riverland to 39-percent shooting from the floor. The Raiders did have trouble staying out of foul trouble against swingman Zach Bunch though, who was 10 for 10 from the foul line in the first half.
The teams traded blows after Riverland opened up the second half with a 22-8 run, sparked by the offense of Bunch and Marcus Ratliff, who combined for 21 of the Blue Devils’ 39 points. Most of the offense from each team came at the free throw line down the stretch, as both teams had trouble creating shots on the perimeter and had to work the post to score.
Bunch followed up his 10-10 first-half free throw shooting with a 5-5 second half from the charity stripe.
CLC countered with three free throws from Kevin Kuefler and Bryan Gichaba to tie the game at 69.
Though Flugum and Thomas stole the spotlight, Kuefler provided a well-rounded game for the Raiders, netting 15 points off of 7-12 shooting, and adding nine rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
Gichaba also provided a spark for CLC off the bench, totaling eight points off of 3-4 shooting with four assists.
“We’re finding ways to win and finish games,” said Russell. “This will be good for us as a team.”
Riverland 38 39 — 77
Central Lakes 52 31 — 83
Zach Bunch 25, Marcus Ratliff 18, Zach Hinrichs 12, TJ Adams 8, Andrew Lau 6, Guillermo DeDiego 2. FG 27-67 (40 percent), FT 19-21 (91 percent), 3-point baskets: 4-14 (29 percent).
Tyler Flugum 24, Andre Thomas 22, Kevin Kuefler 15, Bryan Gichaba 8, Brent Koehler 6, Kahreem Horsley 5, Nathan Holm 2, Benji Subah 1. FG 31-57 (54 percent), FT 8-13 (62 percent), 3FG 13-22 (59). Overall: 3-3. Next: at Ridgewater 3 p.m. Dec. 8.