Maurice Hernandez made buckets at key times in both halves of Saturday’s Southern Division matchup with Riverland and finished with a team-high 25 points to lead the NJCAA’s top-ranked Central Lakes Raiders to a 93-69 victory in Brainerd.
Kwamaine Johnson totaled 19 points and Ronnie Kornbaum and Michael Farrington each scored 13 to help CLC improve to 2-0 in the division and 17-0 overall.
The Raiders scored 56 points in the second half, but it was on the defensive side where the Raiders wore down the Blue Devils. Riverland turned the ball over 17 times with CLC turning those into 18 points.
“We played a lot of help team defense and you can see that it might not wear them down in the first half, but it will in the second half if we can keep that intensity up,” said Kwamaine Johnson. “Right now we can go into halftime up by 10 or less, but then finish off a team in the second half.”
Raiders head coach Jim Russell thinks his team is also playing with a chip on its shoulder.
“Everyone is questioning how good are we are,” said Russell. “My point to my guys is that people can question us all they want, but what we do on the court for 40 minutes is what counts.
“To win games you have to make a statement and I thought our statement was made with defense. We create a lot of offense and easy buckets off it,”
The Raiders started the first half quick with their transition and jumped to a 16-10 lead. CLC, however, turned the ball over 16 times and shot 41 percent, but held on to an eight-point lead after trailing by five.
In the second half, the Raiders built their lead to 18 points by the 10-minute mark. Johnson scored 17 points in the second half with Hernandez scoring 13 of his in that time.
“Last year there were a lot of people that cared about stats,” Johnson said. “But this year we have the guys who returned and we know what it feels like to lose by being selfish. That inspires us to make the extra pass and share the ball even if we might have an open look.”
The Raiders had 23 assists, compared to the Blue Devils’ eight. Johnson had five of those.
“The first half we didn’t play all that great and in the second half all that I asked them to do was be tough,” Russell said. “They are giving me consistency, but they are really showing me their toughness and we are still at the point where we are thinking, what do we have to lose? Yeah, were are No. 1, but you can still play like your back is against the wall.”
Riverland 29 40 — 69
Central Lakes 37 56 — 93
Jordan Osberg 15, Zach Bunch 4, Wayne Canady 10, Keith Thames 2, Denzel Smith 16, Cody Meyer 2, Andrew Kaiser 3, Marcus Ratliff 17. FG 24-53 (45 percent). FT 12-23 (52 percent).
Cody Hofmann 6, Michael Farrington 13, Ronnie Kornbaum 13, Maurice Hernandez 25, Kwamaine Johnson 19, Brandon Davis 7, Matt Christenson 3, Jesse Fleming 7. FG 35-66 (53 percent). FT 17-23 (74 percent). Overall: 17-0. Division: 2-0 Next: at Anoka Community College 8 p.m. Wednesday.