Bryan Gichaba and the Central Lakes College Raiders proved that hard work pays off with an 81-67 win over Hibbing on Saturday.
The Raiders pushed the tempo against a Cardinals team that likes to slow down the game, and gained revenge for a 54-53 loss to the Cardinals in January.
It was CLC’s seventh straight Northern Division win and moved the Raiders to 8-2, good for second place behind Vermilion.
Gichaba made his first start of the season in place of John Jedneak, who had to sit out the game due to a concussion that he received earlier in the week. Gichaba responded with 10 points and six rebounds and two blocked shots.
Andre Thomas led the Raiders in scoring with 18 points and collected three assists. Kevin Kuefler continued his solid play with 15 points and 14 rebounds. Brandon Davis also tallied 14 points as CLC outmuscled the Cardinals inside.
“That is why I play a lot of kids. That way it isn’t so new to them,” CLC coach Jim Russell said of his decision to start Gichaba. “We knew Bryan was more comfortable coming off the bench. John couldn’t go and Bryan played so well at Fond Du Lac that he deserved it.
“It was a good learning experience, but I had all the faith and confidence in him that he could do he job, and he did.”
After going scoreless in the first half, Gichaba responded in the second half with 10 points and made an impact with his hustle on both ends of the floor.
“Today, I started and I usually come off the bench,” said Gichaba. “It was kind of hard getting adjusted to it but my coaches and teammates went to me. The same looks that I wasn’t making in the first half, I was getting them in the second half.”
The Cardinals’ style is to slow down the game and it was effective in their first game against the Raiders. CLC came out determined to change that Saturday and was successful early in the game, connecting on five three-point attempts and jumping out to a 22-11 lead.
However, the shots stopped falling after that, and the Raiders scored just 11 points in the last 10 minutes of the half to lead 33-31.
“We just talked about doing our job,” Russell said of his halftime talk. “We weren’t so concerned about them. They did have some guys who sat out, and I told the team that we just needed to worry about what we do and respect whoever they have on the court.
“We made some adjustments and we knew they couldn’t shoot the ball as well as before. That’s why they like to play the delay game. We wanted to force them to make the three-point shot and that created a tempo for us to get our shots in the second half.”
In the second half, the Raiders pushed the tempo and got the lead up to 51-41 at the 13-minute mark. CLC then put together a 10-point run to up its lead to 65-49 with six minutes left. Gichaba scored four points during that stretch and collected the other six in the last five minutes.
“We just tried our best to move the ball against their zone,” said Gichaba. “They tried to slow it down and they did a good job of that in the first half. We wanted to get our good looks down low and we started to do that in the second half.”
The Raiders now find themselves in familiar territory with a playoff berth all but assured with four games left. CLC is still two games behind Vermilion, but will get a chance to cut that margin when it hosts the Ironmen in a rematch next Saturday.
In between, the Raiders will head to Itasca on Wednesday.
Hibbing 31 25 — 56
CLC 33 47 — 80
Dontae Joseph 8, Marcellis Beard 8, Tyler Vork 2, Greg Davison 3, Manani Beavers 13, DeVonte Miller 5, Malachi Ireland-Covington 2, Troy Klingsporn 6, Quinn Wakefield 9. FG 20-54 (37 percent), FT 11-16 (69 percent). 3-point 5-19 (26 percent).
Benji Subah 4, Andre Thomas 18, Nathan Holm 5, Tyler Flugum 6, Kevin Kuefler 15, Bryan Gichaba 10, Brandon Davis 14, Kahreem Horsley 6, Herbert Tarpeh 2. FG 28-66 (42 percent), FT 18-27 (67 percent), 3-point 6-17 (35 percent). Division: 8-2. Overall: 15-7. Next: CLC vs. Itasca at Grand Rapids 8 p.m. Wednesday.