Cumberland Times-News

March 16, 2014

Lakers draw No. 1 Cincinnati State in first-round game

Mike Mathews
Cumberland Times-News

— MCHENRY — The Garrett Lakers have already beaten the No. 2 team in the country. Now, they get a crack at No. 1.

The opportunity comes Tuesday in the first round of the NJCAA Division II National Tournament in Danville, Ill. The Lakers (19-10) face top-ranked Cincinnati State (27-3) in a first-round game at 7:30 p.m. EDT.

It’s the second national tournament appearance in school history for Garrett. The first came 20 years ago when Coach Dennis Gibson’s Lakers lost to eventual champ Joliet (Ill.) 89-79 in the first round in 1995. They beat Mercer (N.J.) 85-70 the next day and lost to Iowa Lakes 89-83.

That year the Lakers, 27-5 and No. 7 in the country at the time, finished sixth in the national tournament, which was an eight-team field. Now the national tournament consists of 16 teams.

This year, Garrett beat No. 2 Beaver (Pa.) County 76-73 in the Region XX semifinals on Feb. 28 in Hagerstown, then edged Southern Maryland 74-73 in the championship game the next day to earn the trip to the national tournament.

“It was a huge win for us, because we haven’t done as well in postseason play in Division II as we had in Division I,’’ Gibson said of the win over Beaver. “I think it gave our guys extra confidence, even though we didn’t play nearly as well the next day against Southern Maryland.

“We don’t play the small, three-point shooting teams very well. That’s who most of our losses have come against. When we play a team we can match up with physically we seem to do better. When we control tempo, we’re much better off.”

In Cincinnati State, the Lakers face a team that averages 99.2 points per game and is allowing 66.3. The Surge has won 11 in a row and 14 of 15. Garrett has a six-game winning streak, averages 79.7 points per game and allows 58.7.

Cincinnati State is one of seven in the tournament field that was ranked in the final regular-season poll. The others are No. 3 Wayne (Mich.), No. 7 Des Moines Area (Iowa), No. 9 South Suburban (Ill.), No. 11 Dean (Mass.), No. 12 Essex County (N.J.) and No 15 Phoenix (Ariz.). The tournament schedule is listed in today’s Scoreboard page.

“We’re going to be on a two-week layoff between games, and Cincy State just played last weekend. To me, that’s a definite advantage,’’ Gibson said. “They’re still fresh from their game. The big key is you’ve got to go out there and shoot well ... get a good start and get acclimated to things, and you’re fine.

“Everyone’s got their weaknesses. The big questions for us is ‘Do we handle the press well and make our open shots?’ If we make our open shots, I think we can be as good as anyone out there.

“I’d rather play the No. 1 team at 6:30 in the evening than play someone at 9 o’clock in the morning,’’ Gibson added.

Gibson sees the trip to the national tournament as a reward for many reasons.

“We’ve been through some tough times, but we’ve stuck together,’’ he said. “We have four sophomores who have been really great teammates and have held the team together. They are good players and confident guys. And it’s really rewarding to me because they are great academic guys, too.”

The sophomores are 6-6 forward Frank Holloway, 6-4 wing D.J. Ritchie, 6-4 guard Yannick Zanfack and 6-7 forward Shannon McCready.

Holloway leads the team in scoring, rebounding, foul shooting and three-point shooting. He’s 15th in the nation in scoring (23.0) and 34th in rebounding (8.7), is shooting 80 percent from the foul line (151 for 189) and 36 percent from the three-point line.

Ritchie, the Times-News high school player of the year two seasons ago at Southern Garrett, averages 10.6 points and four rebounds, and Zanfack 7.7 points and 3.7 rebounds.

Freshman DeAndre Davis, a 6-6 forward, averages 9.9 points and 7.7 rebounds, and 5-10 freshman point guard Corey Groom averages 7.8 points and 4.5 assists. McCready had been a starter most of the season until being slowed by an injury, is now the sixth man and averages 4.7 points and 5.2 rebounds.

Holloway had 20 points and was the most valuable player of the Region XX-B Tournament, while Davis had 18 points and eight rebounds and was named to the all-tournament team.

Winston Grays averages 20.4 points and is shooting nearly 40 percent from the three-point line for Cincinnati State. Hugh Hobbs averages 13.6 points, Trent Donald 13.4 and McKinley Bell 11.3. Orlando Berry is fifth in the nation in assists at 7.1 per game.

Garrett won the Region XX, Division I championship with a 55-52 win over Allegany in 2003, but missed out on a trip to the National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., by losing to Louisburg (N.C.) College in the district tournament.

Gibson has averaged 20 wins per season for nearly three decades at Garrett. He has a 541-291 record in 27 seasons.

Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at mmathews@times-news.com