Six weeks ago, head coach Jim Russell and the Central Lakes Raiders were in a strange place with an 0-3 record to start season.
A year ago, Kevin Kuefler was on the bench with a torn anterior cruciate ligament cheering on his teammates.
Kuefler and the Raiders are in a much different place now. Kuefler’s 21 points led CLC to an 86-78 win over St. Cloud Technical College Saturday in the Winter Classic.
The Raiders now have a 7-5 record and are looking to the Northern Division opener Friday against Rainy River.
Kuefler shot 8-of-16 from the field and made five of seven free throws. He was followed by Brandon Davis who scored 18 points and shot 9-18 from the free throw line. Tyler Flugum hit four three-pointers and tallied 13 points.
“These guys are growing up,” said Russell. “Brandon Davis held his ground and played hard. Kevin (Kuefler) did a great job and he wanted the basketball and that is fun to see. It’s why he had the game that he did today. We have never had somebody come back from an injury like he did. That is a lot of credit to him.”
The two teams combined for 50 personal fouls and 62 free throws. The Raiders shot 25-37 from the line while the Cyclones were 16-25.
“Today was a tough game,” said Russell. “They wanted to slow the pace and we wanted it quick. It was physical and I thought we held our composure and made our free throws at the end to win the game.”
Kuefler has spent the early part of the season adjusting to his new teammates.
“I think we have come a long way,” Kuefler said. “We started out 0-3 but we had a lot of freshman so it took a while to mature and adjust to the college game. I think we are doing well. We need to keep it up, but we have come a long way.
“There is always a need for improvement. Last year I tore my ACL, but it is starting to feel more comfortable with my leg getting back in shape. I am happy where I am at, but not settling yet.”
In the first half, the Raiders worked at a fast transition game, while the Cyclones wanted a half court game. The Raiders pulled ahead by one point with a 10-9 lead at the 15:03 mark of the first half. It was a two point game for the Raiders at the 11:00 mark, and SCTC tied the game at 22 with seven minutes left in the first half. The Raiders had scoring runs of four, five, and six points at the end of the first half to led 40-31. The two teams combined to shoot just 3-22 from behind the arc, while the CLC bench outscored the Cyclones by a 14-0 margin. The two teams kept the game close in the second half as the biggest run was seven for SCTC. The Raiders earned their biggest lead of 64-53 at the 9:46 mark of the second half, but the Cyclones cut the lead to six with three minutes left.
It was then a game of free throws as CLC scored their last 11 points from the foul line.
“We played a lot of close games this year and I think that is going to help us down the stretch,” Kuefler said. ”Earlier in the season, we had leads and blew it and I think we have adjusted to that.”
St. Cloud Technical 31 47 — 77
Central Lakes 40 46 — 86
Jett Leag 24, Alex Matchnisky 18, Riley West 6, Brandon Marek 2, Leland Harris 4, Jared Noonan 24. FG 26-63 (41 percent), FT 16-25 (64 percent), 3-point 10-25 (40 percent).
Benji Subah 2, Andre Thomas 12, Tyler Flugum 13, Kevin Kuefler 21, Bryan Gichaba 7, Brandon Davis 18, Kahreem Horsley 5, John Jedneak 6, Brent Koehler 2. FG 28-62 (45 percent), FT 25-37 (68 percent). 3-point 5-21 (24 percent). Overall: 7-5. Next: CLC vs Rainy River at International Falls, 8 p.m. Friday.