As the winter weather settled in outside Saturday, Nov. 13, the heat on the basketball floor was turned up inside the Central Lakes College gym.
With the Raiders at the free-throw line, trailing by one point with four seconds left, the stage was set for a win and pandemonium.
But the free throw bounced away, something that plagued the Raiders all game and Dakota County Technical College secured a 77-76 win over CLC.
The Raiders dropped to 1-1 overall while the Blue Knights, a Division II school out of Inver Grove Heights, improved to 2-0.
The Raiders’ Quamar Gresham finished with 15 points to lead the Raiders in scoring. He was followed by Rodney Oliver with 14 points and Jalen Dearring with 12. Josh Lewis came off the bench with 10.
“We want this challenge at the beginning of the year,” Raiders head coach Jim Russell said. “I wish it was a better outcome. They are a Division II team with a lot of returning players. It was a good game and very entertaining. Nothing is going to get easy for us because every team is going to come after us, but I believe in this team and that we are going to do things the right way.”
The Raiders came back from deficits in the first and second half. Dearring and Derek Aeilts made key baskets down the stretch. But what cost the Raiders were turnovers, which took away chances of going on a sustained run and failure to capitalize at the free-throw line where they finished 6-of-14 for 43%. Dakota County wasn’t much better, shooting 65% at the line, but free throws played a key part in the last 10 seconds.
Central Lakes started slowly in its opener Wednesday, Nov. 10, against Leech Lake and that was the case again Saturday. The Raiders trailed 5-1 early but grabbed their first lead at 10-9 on a 3-point basket by Gresham. They increased the lead to 15-9 on a basket from David Felix. With turnovers plaguing the Raiders, the Blue Knights kept the game close and took a 34-33 lead late in the first half on a basket from Ronnell Porter, who led Dakota County with 14 points and a perfect 4-4 from the free-throw line.
Leading at half 42-37, the Blue Knights increased their lead to 45-38 before the Raiders tied the game at 48 on a Rodney Oliver dunk With three straight buckets from Oliver, CJ Davenport and Dearring, the Raiders grabbed the lead with 7:02 left in the second half. The Blue Knights built a lead again that got as high as 71-64, before the Raiders went on an eight-point run, including two 3-pointers on two straight possessions by Derek Aelits to lead 72-71 with 49 seconds left. The two teams swapped baskets before a Gresham basket handed CLC a 76-75 led with under 20 seconds to play.
The Blue Knights’ Porter, in his second season with the team, drew a foul and he made both free throws with 4.2 seconds left to put Dakota County up 77-76.
On the inbound following the shot, Gresham drew the foul while going to receive the pass in the backcourt. He went to the line for one and the bonus, but his shot bounced off and Dakota County survived.
Russell kept things in perspective as he talked to his players in the locker room about continuing to improve.
“They had a bunch of sophomores and we have a bunch of new guys,” he said. “We are learning and every possession has to mean something to us. We missed a rebound on a free throw. Just the little things that we have to get better. But if we can get that concept down that every possession has to mean something we are just going to get better and better.”