BY AARON PATTERSON firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DANVILLE — There wasn’t a ton of shock on the part of Central Community College coach Marty Levinson when his team started bickering in the first half of its NJCAA men’s national tournament opener against John Wood Community College.
After all, he said they are like brothers. And at times, that’s what brothers do. Four of the starting five are from Omaha, Nebraska and virtually grew up together. So Levinson also wasn’t surprised when they were able to hash things out and get back on track.
Thankfully they did, and the Raiders came together just in time to avoid a disastrous first half. They once again bonded in the second and pulled out an 89-82 win over John Wood.
The Raiders found themselves down 34-25 with four minutes, 30 seconds to play in the first half, but went into halftime with a 38-36 lead after going on a 13-4 run in the final 2:48 of the half.
“It was a pretty big run because at first I felt like my teammates were turning on each other,” Omaha native and Central Community College sophomore Tyron Criswell said. “We started arguing. For a possession or two, we were just bickering at each other. So that run really helped us get back together.”
Criswell scored a game high 36 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. But it was Deandre Hollins-Johnson who hit a three to spark the game-saving run. Any miscommunication was fixed, and Levinson’s halftime speech was altered.
“We’ve got some hard heads,” Levinson said. “What makes you great can be your ultimate downfall as well. We’ve got some sophomores that are really good, and then we’ve got some freshmen that won three state titles. Egos get in the way sometimes. Everyone wants to hit home runs, and in basketball, there’s no home runs.
“The thing is, the bickering is like brotherhood bickering because the four Omaha kids have known each other since like fifth grade,” Levinson added. “Nebraska doesn’t have a ton of Division I talent in it basketball-wise. These guys have all known each other. They have played pick-up games together all the time. I pretty much just let them have their own personality, let them hash it out, and it takes care of itself.”
Finding a remedy for the intra-squad arguments became even more crucial in the second half as John Wood hit four consecutive threes by Josh Baldridge (13 points) and Paxton Harmon. The shooting spree put confidence back into the Trail Blazers and gave them a 56-51 lead. But over 11 minutes remained on the clock, and Central Community College was able to keep pace.
“That’s been the tale of our season,” John Wood coach Brad Hoyt said. “They have been able to make shots like that at critical times. They did that at the region tournament and they’ve done it in the last month and a half. But for us, it’s always come down to getting stops and rebounding. They did a good job spreading us or iso-ing us a little bit. We were sort of on our heels all night long. We battled and our kids battled. That’s what they do. We shoot it pretty well. That’s what we do. We’ve always known that our ability to guard and rebound it could potentially be our Achilles heel, and I think that hurt us tonight.”
The Raiders outrebounded John Wood 41-23 behind Criswell’s 13 and 15 from Riak Bol (10 points).
Hollins-Johnson (15 points), Tra-Deon Hollins (16 points), and David Plain (10 points, five assists) all reached double figures for the Raiders.
T.J. Tisdale scored a team high 31 for John Wood in addition to his seven rebounds while Jordan Johnson (five assists, three steals) scored 16.
John Wood entered the tournament having won 19 of its last 21 games, but will now settle for, at best, a seventh place finish as it will end its season in the consolation bracket.
Central Community College advances to take on Cincinnati State on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. while John Wood will play in Thursday’s 11 a.m. consolation bracket game against Garrett College.
“It’s a W so I’m happy, but I’m not satisfied yet,” Criswell said. “We still have games to play. We didn’t come here just to win one game.”