It was perfect timing for the Central Lakes Raiders.
With two weeks remaining before the Minnesota College Athletic Conference state tournament, an upset was in order.
Enter the No. 2 ranked Vermilion Ironmen, who came into Saturday’s game at Brainerd with 11-0 Northern Division record.
CLC sophomore Kevin Kuefler’s 22 point and nine rebounds helped secure 81-73 upset
“We wanted to chest up with them and see what it was like,” said Raiders head coach Jim Russell. “We made the playoffs and they have made the playoffs so the plan was to see what we got. This is a great measuring stick for us and it was great to see us dominate the inside like we did with how big they are.
“To have Kevin rebound and score the way he did, that tells you a lot about us. I think our two leaders, Brandon (Davis) and Kevin really stepped up. Brandon took control of the floor and Kevin took control of the paint. As a coach you are pleased that your sophomores are stepping up and doing that.”
Davis finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. Andre Thomas, who was last week’s Northern Division player of the week, scored 19 points.
“It was a huge win with tournament time right around the corner,” Kuefler said. “Half the battle is believing and I think after tonight I don’t know how you don’t believe in your teammates. We believed in it today. We let the lead slip a little toward the end, but we came out with a big win,”
The Raiders built a 24-15 lead early in the first half thanks to good defense and Vermilion’s poor free throw shooting. The Ironmen were 8-of-17 from the line in the first half.
CLC used runs of five and seven points to take a 37-31 lead into the locker room. Kuefler finished the first half with 11 points.
“We always want to go inside out and work the ball in,” Kuefler said. “In a big game like this, people have a lot of emotion and you try not to get caught up in that. I thought tonight we did a great job talking on defense and talking through screens. That is our bread and butter here is playing defense.”
The Raiders used a 6-point run to build a 69-52 lead with 7:45 remaining. Vermilion then used a full-court press to outscore CLC 21-12 down the stretch. Derek Meger scored 16 second-half points for Vermilion.
“You wanted them to play because there was a lot of time left, but you have to know when to pull the ball out,” said Russell of CLC’s press offense. “It is a great time to learn and I don’t want to be using time outs. It’s a great game situation. I want them to pull back but Andre is such a great scoring threat you hate to have him pull too far back either.”
CLC shot 14 free throws in the second half and held off the Ironmen for the win. Vermilion still leads the Raiders by a full game in the Division with just two to play.
“In my opinion, seedings don’t mean anything,” Kuefler said. “We are playing in the same gym, same atmosphere, and the same refs so it really doesn’t matter. This win was huge for our confidence. They won big over us the first time and to come back is a huge win.”
Vermilion 31 42 — 73
Central Lakes 37 44 — 81
Jerrod Briscoe 6, Anthony Burns 17, Shawn Bear 10, Kemp McCray 10, Emeche Wells 9, Derek Meger 20, Kevin Price-Majors 1. FG 26-58 (45 percent), FT 15-30 (50 percent), 3-point 6-18 (33 percent). Division: 11-1, Overall: 23-2.
Benji Subah 2, Andre Thomas 19, Tyler Flugum 2, Kevin Kuefler 22, Bryan Gichaba 6, Brandon Davis 11, Kahreem Horsley 11, John Jedneak 6, Brent Koehler 2. FG 30-64 (47 percent), FT 17-25 (68 percent), 3-point 4-8 (50 percent). Division: 10-2. Overall: 17-7. Next: CLC at Mesabi 8 p.m. Wednesday.