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Men's College Basketball: Raiders hungry for championship

For the Central Lakes College Raiders, their season has come down to three days this weekend.

The MCAC/Region 13 Tournament runs Friday through Sunday and offers the opportunity to one team out of eight competing to earn a trip to the national tournament in New York.

The Raiders, who are seeded No. 2 in the Northern Division, have stumbled down the stretch, losing their last two home games and playing .500 basketball the last two weeks.

This is not a typical end to the season for a Jim Russell coached team, but CLC has been locked into the No. 2 seed behind Vermilion for the last two weeks.

“We need to get back to team basketball,” said Russell. “We do need to get that hunger back. Once we were locked into the No. 2 seed we kind of hung back a bit and I was playing a lot of players too. Heading into this weekend we need to get back to the fundamentals.”

Sandwiched around road wins at Itasca and Fond du Lac, the Raiders dropped home games to Northland and Hibbing in the last two weeks. Both of those teams were battling to get into the playoffs and faced each other in a play-in game earlier this week with Northland getting the win and the No. 4 seed in the North.

Northland now will play the No. 1 seed in the Southern Division, Rochester, which went 14-0 in division play. If the Raiders get past Friday’s opponent, the South’s No. 3 seeded Minnesota West, they will face the Rochester-Northland winner Saturday.

The Raiders split with Northland in divisional play this season, and lost to Rochester and Minnesota West in pre-division games.

“They are all good players and they shoot the ball very well,” Russell said of Minnesota West. “They play within their limitations and we are going to have to be disciplined. It will be a battle on the boards with who does the little things.”

Offensively, the Raiders will need a big game from Quincy Bethea, who has averaged 15.8 points in just 11 games played. Alex Koch sits in fourth place in three-point percentage as he is shooting better than 40 percent from behind the arc.

Bryan Gichaba made it into the top 10 in field goal percentage, finishing the regular season at 53 percent.

On the defensive end of the floor, CLC gives up a little more than 70 points a game, good for second in the North. That is also a better per-game defensive average than any Southern Division teams.

The Raiders hope for wins Friday and Saturday and a spot in Sunday’s championship game. If they can make it to that game, they might face the North’s No. 1 seed in Vermilion, which CLC split with this season. The loss the Raiders handed to Vermilion at CLC was the Ironmen’s only division loss of the season.