BY CHAD DARE
The defending national champions and top seeded coming into the NJCAA Division II national tournament, the Mott Bears found themselves in unfamiliar territory Wednesday as they faced the Iowa Lakes Lakers in consolation bracket play.
The Bears had advanced to the semi-finals in each of their previous eight tournament appearances and led by a game-high 20 points from Malik Albert, Mott won its first ever consolation bracket game and made some history with a 73-68 win over the Lakers.
Mott improves to 28-5 all time in tournament play, which is the most wins and best winning percentage in tournament history. It was a huge bounce back game for Albert who shot 5-for-7 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free throw line following a 1-for-17 shooting performance in Mott’s opening game loss to Central Community College.
“We had to match the intensity of coach (Steve) Schmidt because you know he is going to bring 110 percent every time,” Albert said. “This was a major win for us. Being the number 1 seed we shouldn’t have lost the first game, and after we did, it wasn’t very difficult to get up for this game because we needed to redeem ourselves.”
As a team, the Bears shot 28-for-51 following a 24-for-76 performance in the opening game.
“I’ve been coaching 22 years and I cant explain what happened in the first game,” Schmidt said. “I had a heavy heart watching Malik struggle the way he did. I knew he would bounce back, that is what great players do.
“This was the 33rd game I have coached at the tournament and every one of them has been a special experience, including the loss yesterday. It was a humbling experience and I was waiting to see how we would bounce back because we have been inconsistent at times this season with our intensity. I am really happy we have the chance to stay in the tournament and compete.”
Mott also got 14 points from Devin Foster.
The Lakers end their season with a 26-8 record.
“We have a really good group of character guys who play hard and care about each other and I knew they would come out and play hard today,” said Iowa Lakes coach Troy Larson. “We had some looks around the basket that we weren’t able to finish, and you just can’t dig to deep a hole against a talented team that is bigger and more athletic than you are.”
The Lakers two losses were by a combined seven points.
“That is really a double edged sword,” Larson said. “I am very proud of our guys, but we didn’t come here just to compete. I’m sad I won’t have the chance to coach these guys anymore, but they fought very hard.”
The Lakers were led by 14 points each from Ben Shellim and Josh Schaben, with Deondre Parks and Kelly Madison adding 12 points each.
Iowa Lakes got out to a 14-5 lead and led 18-10 with ten minutes to go in the first half. The Bears would go on a 9-0 run to take their first lead at 19-18, but the Lakers would battle back and led 28-27 with four minutes to go.
A 12-0 Mott run to close out the half would send the Bears into halftime with a 39-28 lead. Mott would open the second half on an 8-0 run to take their largest lead of the game at 47-28.
“We really needed that run,” Schmidt said. “We pride ourselves on defense. We had never faced Iowa Lakes before, but we have had some epic battles with Iowa teams in the past, and they are another tremendous team from Iowa. I hate to see a great team like Iowa Lakes go out of the tournament after two games and we have nothing but respect for them, but it was good for our guys to grow up a bit in a physical hard fought game.”
The Lakers would cut the deficit to 60-56 with seven minutes to go and got within two at 64-62 with three minutes to go, but Iowa Lakes could get no closer.
“We talk a lot about the last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half,” said Larson. “You just can’t allow a run like that against a quality team.”
Schmidt was pleased with the leadership he saw from sophomore Fred Mattison.
“I told Fred that we gotta have you to today and helped our freshman and everyone to keep their heads up, Schmidt said. “Devin Foster was a top 5 player coming out of Chicago who turned a corner today after an up and down season and Coreontae DeBerry showed flashes of the unique skill set he has. They all helped us get to game number 34.”
The Bears return to action Friday at 11 a.m. against an opponent to be determined.