It's a little early to classify a game as a must win.
But after losing two consecutive North Division games and dropping to third place in the standings with a grueling weekend on the horizon, a must-win game is exactly what the Central Lakes College Raiders men's basketball team faced Wednesday night.
And they delivered.
The Raiders, with five players scoring in double digits, trounced the Itasca Vikings 93-61.
"It was a win that we needed," said wing Brandon Flanders. "I'm hoping this win will give us some energy for this weekend."
"We knew we had to step it up another notch," guard Donald Byrd said. "We had to pull together as a team."
The Raiders used a lethal combination of explosive offense that shot 57 percent from the floor while a stifling defense held the Vikings to paltry 37-percent field-goal shooting.
Leading the charge for the Raiders were Byrd and wing Garth McFadden, who both scored 15 points. Flanders was second in line with 14 points.
In what seemed to be a close game at the start, the Raiders blew open the lead with a 19-5 run that was started by one of McFadden's five three-pointers, giving them a 37-23 lead. That lead would balloon to 19 points as both teams headed for the locker rooms at halftime.
One of the Raiders' downfalls has been their inability to keep or extend their leads from the first half. They had no such problem Wednesday.
With a solid 19-point lead, the Raiders opened the second half with a 21-3 run that ate up more than seven minutes of clock, giving them a 70-33 lead.
"We've been giving up a lot of points in the second half," Raiders coach Jim Russell said. "We needed to work on our intensity in the second half.
"As a coach, you know this is a game you should win. Championship teams are built to play every game and every minute and that's what we did."
Flanders put an exclamation point on the night as he took a fastbreak pass from guard Damien Perry off the glass and slammed it home.
The Raiders' bench was the deciding factor Wednesday night as it scored 45 points and were led by Byrd, Flanders and wing Justin Heitkamp's nine points. Byrd and Flanders understand how important their roles are to the success of the team.
Russell will be counting on the same production from his bench this weekend as the Raiders travel to Vermilion and Mesabi Range, the top two teams in the division.
Itasca Community College 30 31 -- 61
Central Lakes College 49 44 -- 93
Davis Lamppa 16, David Kapaun 8, Mark Otterblad 7, Jeremiah Samarzia 19, Ben Mettling 4, Mike Dent 2, Rodney Turner 2, Travis Schwartz 2, Jay Elmore 1. Team totals: FG 23-63 (36 percent), FT 9-15 (60 percent). Conference -- 0-7. Overall -- 3-14.
CENTRAL LAKES (93)
Jay Mrozek 13, Garth McFadden 15, Reid Kuschel 4, Joel Clough 7, Travis Janich 3, Jermaine McGruther 10, Donald Byrd 15, Damien Perry 1, Brandon Flanders 14, Justin Heitkamp 9, John Norquist 2. Team totals: FG 37-64 (57 percent), FT 10-13 (76 percent). Conference -- 4-2. Overall -- 12-4. Next game: at Vermilion 8 p.m. Friday.
3-point baskets -- CLC 8 (McFadden 5), ICC 6. Rebounds -- CLC 35 (Flanders 5). Turnovers -- CLC 15. Total fouls -- CLC 17, ICC 13. Assists -- CLC 30 (Clough 8). Steals -- CLC 17. Blocks -- 5. Halftime -- CLC 49, ICC 30.
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