BY CHAD DARE
Central Community College coach Marty Levinson spent most of Monday night watching one game over and over.
The second-year coach was viewing the only game film he had on the top-seeded Mott Community College Bears. Then after looking over their statistics, he called his assistants to his motel room to discuss a game plan.
“I was watching film until my eyes hurt,’’ Levinson said. “I asked my assistants, ‘are we soft if we come out in the first game of a National Tournament and play a 2-3 zone?’
“My assistant coach Steve Collins, he’s the older brother of Sherron Collins (former Kansas standout), and he says ‘they can’t shoot.’ That’s all I needed to hear.’’
Central (20-13) used its packed-in 2-3 zone to perfection as the Raiders upset the defending National Championship Bears 67-61 in the opening game of the NJCAA Division II National Tournament at the Mary Miller Gymnasium.
“He had his kids ready,’’ Mott coach Steve Schmidt said of Levinson, noting that it was 12 years ago when he upset No. 1 Beaver County in his first National Tournament. “They had a nice game plan. We have seen a lot of zone, there was nothing fancy about what they did.
“I’m afraid to look at that stat sheet.’’
And Schmidt was justified in that fear. Mott shot a dismal 31.6 percent (24-of-76) from the field and the Bears were just 3-of-27 behind the 3-point arc.
“If you knocked down some shots, it’s a different story,’’ Schmidt said. “They packed that zone in, just daring us to make shots.’’
Not only did Central C.C. force Mott into shooting from the perimeter, the Raiders were also successful in keeping the Bears off the glass.
Raik Bol and James Spencer combined for 22 rebounds — 20 defensive — as Central won the rebounding battle 45-37 against Mott, but it was still the defense getting the credit for the victory.
“Defense — that’s what coach always said,’’ said Bol, who is related to former NBA player Manute Bol. “That’s all we work on during practice is defense, defense, defense.
“It gets annoying, but I guess that’s why he does it for times like this.’’
Bol also came up with six points in the final six minutes, including a very important tip-in with 57.6 seconds left giving the Raiders a 64-61 lead.
“Riak is so talented. I told him before the game that he is the most blessed player in this tournament,’’ Levinson said. “When things get ugly — he is so tall, he has such great hands, and such great timing – he gives us that presence. And he is so skilled. It really gives you an advantage.’’
Mott, which trailed by as much as seven (54-47) with 8 minutes left, went on a 7-0 run to tie the game at 54-54 and the contest was tied at 61-61 with four minutes left.
Schmidt felt pretty good about his team’s chances, as a year ago en route to their fourth National Title, the Bears overcame a 15-point deficit to beat Danville Area Community College in the opening-round contest.
“I thought we are going to do what Mott typically does now and that’s to make stops, and we didn’t make the stops,’’ he said.
And now the Bears are in an unfamiliar position — the consolation bracket.
“This is the first time that I’ve been in this position,’’ Schmidt said. “The great thing about the new press room (at the Mary Miller Gymnasium), I got to walk past all of the pictures in the hallway of the past champions. It makes you appreciate what we’ve accomplished in the past.
“It’s kind of humbling. It’s going to be a test of character for our guys.’’
Spencer was the leading scorer for Central with 21 points to go along with his 11 rebounds. Bol was one of three Raiders with 11 points along with David Plain and LaRell Blackstone.
Fred Mattison led Mott with 17 points and he also had 10 rebounds.
Central will play Owens in a quarterfinal contest at 6 p.m. tonight, while Mott faces Iowa Lakes at 3 p.m. today in the consolation bracket.