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Raiders defeat Mid Michigan, move on to NJCAA DII District 9 championship game

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GRCC men's basketball player Cam Spicer during the Raiders' 82-75 win over the Mid Michigan College Lakers in the NJCAA DII District 9 semifinals game on Friday, March 8 at the Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse in Grand Rapids. (Aaron Stoner/The Collegiate)

The Grand Rapids Community College men’s basketball team moved within one win of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II District 9 championship after their 82-75 win Friday night over the Mid Michigan College Lakers in the Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse.

Ike Kanu immediately got the crowd going in the opening minutes with a monstrous dunk that electrified the building. After that, it was all Raiders early in the game. Raiders were ahead 17-11 and then went on a 19-0 run to build a huge, 36-11 lead. The run finally came to an end when the Lakers hit a three.

Following the three, freshman guard David Hearns was hit with a technical foul giving the Lakers two free throws. While they were shooting, the same referee blew his whistle and called another technical on Raiders’ head coach Luke Bronkema. The Lakers hit all four free throws allowing them to go on a 7-0 run near the end of the first half.

Despite the run, the Raiders still went into halftime with a 22-point advantage with a score of 46-24.

Coming out in the second half, the Raiders seemed to pick up right where they left off with Sammie Ryans hitting a three in the first 10 seconds of the half. Just five minutes later, however, a massive shift in momentum came via the same referee who had called the previous two technicals.

In the middle of a play, Hearns was whistled for his second technical and ejected from the game. He and the rest of the Raiders seemed to be dumbfounded as to why he was thrown out. Bronkema and the team were visibly frustrated with the call on the floor.

“It was a very frustrating night I think in a lot of aspects,” Bronkema said. “I think that’s a great way to describe it. There’s not a whole lot I want to say about the technical fouls. Again, just a very, very tough night.”

After the Hearns ejection, the Lakers went on a 9-0 run to pull within 10 points of the Raiders. Kanu ended the Lakers’ run by banking a shot off the glass, starting a 7-0 run for the Raiders that built their lead back to 61-44.

With four minutes remaining in the game, the Raiders still held a sizeable, 15-point lead. But the Lakers made a push near the end of the game with just under two minutes to play, the Lakers had come back and were now only trailing 77-70.

The Raiders played a hard fought last minute and ended up holding off the Lakers’ surges to secure the victory. Kanu talked about the mood on the court and bench during the turmoil with the one specific referee.

“The mood stayed the same,” Kanu said. “We just caught some technicals, got a little upset with the referee, but you know we executed the win.”

Despite the frustration the Raiders experienced Friday night, the win puts them in the championship game. Kanu has been saying that this team has big goals all season long, and he didn’t back down from those statements after the game.

“Like I said before, we’re not done yet,” Kanu said. “Bigger picture, nationals. We’re just gonna go and get this win.”

Bronkema shared Kanu’s sentiments and talked briefly about his and the team’s excitement headed into the tournament championship on Saturday night.

“We’re excited you know, it’s always great when you get an opportunity to play for a championship game,” he said.

The Raiders had a lot of big performances in Thursday night’s game, none bigger than Willie Otole who shot 8-of-10 from the field for 27 points including an astounding 7-for-9 from three-point range. Kanu had a huge double-double for the Raiders with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Ryans and Cam Spicer also played big roles scoring 13 and 11 respectively.

The Raiders will face off against the Ancilla College Chargers Saturday at 7:30 p.m in the Ford Fieldhouse. The Chargers punched their ticket to the title game on Thursday evening after beating the Glen Oaks Community College Vikings 94-83. This will be the Raiders’ third meeting with Ancilla this season. The two teams split the season series each winning a game against the other.

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