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Men's College Basketball: Raiders primed for big things

When the pairings were announced Tuesday, Feb. 26 for the MCAC/NJCAA Region XIII Tournament, the North No. 1 seeded Central Lakes College Raiders still didn't know who they would play. Rochester, who ended up earning the No. 4 spot out of the Sou...

Malik Kelly drives to the hole for the Central Lakes College Raiders earlier this season. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Malik Kelly drives to the hole for the Central Lakes College Raiders earlier this season. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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When the pairings were announced Tuesday, Feb. 26 for the MCAC/NJCAA Region XIII Tournament, the North No. 1 seeded Central Lakes College Raiders still didn't know who they would play.

Rochester, who ended up earning the No. 4 spot out of the South Division, landed the spot with a victory of a rescheduled game later that day.

The two teams will square off 3 p.m. Friday, March 1 at Anoka-Ramsey Community College.

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Region XII Tournament

  • Who: North No. 1 seeded Central Lakes College (22-15) vs. South No. 4 Rochester
  • What: Quarterfinal round
  • When: 3 p.m. Friday, March 1
  • Where: Anoka-Ramsey Community College

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The Yellowjackets bounced the Raiders with a three-point win in last year's tournament. That could create a revenge factor for CLC to win Friday.

"The thing about junior college basketball is that kids don't remember their last game, and that is OK," he said. "As coaches, we just want to get down there and play. We will face whoever is scheduled to play us."

CLC is led by Chris Buckley, AJ Ray and Malik Kelly, who are primed to improve upon CLC's record of 22-5 and scoring average of 88 points per game.

"We have a very positive group and we are getting along," Russell said. "I am really looking forward to seeing what happens at the state tournament. That's what our goal was."

That goal seemed shaky earlier in the season as the players struggled with building team chemistry. CLC lost to St. Cloud Technical & Community College by three and at Anoka-Ramsey by four. In a home game Dec. 22 against Riverland, CLC squandered a five-point halftime lead and lost 77-66.

A home loss to Ridgewater a week later could have put the Raiders goals in jeopardy. But the opposite happened.

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During the next seven weeks, CLC would win 14 of 15 games and put a stranglehold on the Northern Division. The Raiders topped 90 points in four games and hit the century mark in five others.

Brandon Burggraff and Tyeree'on Johnson completed the starting five and Josh Arnold, Gavin Smith and Kelvin Harris provided key minutes off the bench.

The Raiders are 6-0 against the other three Northern Division teams (Northland, Rainy River and Mesabi) that made the tournament. CLC is 0-3 against the Southern Division teams.

"We have lost to the top three teams, but I want to be the underdog," he said. "We have been that all year and that is the way we are facing the weekend is that we are underdogs and we don't expect any gifts, but we know what we have to do."

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