Anoka-Ramsey Community College (24-10) went 1-2 at the NJCAA Division III National Tournament, March 13-15 at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, New York.
The Golden Rams qualified for nationals for only the second time in program history, 1999-2000, and first for head coach Ron Larson who was named Region XIII and District 4 Coach of the Year.
Anoka-Ramsey opened with an 88-73 loss to defending champion Eastfield College (Mesquite, Texas). The Golden Rams cut the lead to five points but couldn’t cut the lead any closer down the stretch.
“The first game there is always a bit of awe,” Golden Rams coach Ron Larson said, not seeing many of the teams in person before nationals but hearing all of the hype about how they reached nationals. “We definitely felt more confident coming into that second game wanting to play in a trophy game.”
The Golden Rams rebounded with a 91-87 win over Herikmer College in the consolation bracket contest. Anoka-Ramsey was red-hot from 3-point range (18-32) including 13-20 in the first half to spark the only win at nationals.
“We were determined… we jumped on them early,” Larson said, adding that like his team has done all season, “making plays at the end.”
Joey Lyons stole the ball with Anoka-Ramsey down by one point. He missed the ensuing shot but Antony Brama was there for the rebound and basket to take a one-point lead. Another steal by Lyons and a foul led to making one free throw. That was followed by Trent Pollard with a third steal to protect the narrow lead and increase it to a four-point spread for the final score.
“Fun game and everyone enjoyed it,” Larson said about the emotional victory where three Golden Rams scored more than 21 points. Lyons led the way with 24 points, Pollard had 22 points and all-tournament team member and Worchester, Massachusetts native, Lemuel Doe had 21 points. Brama contributed 13 points with a rare start.
The Golden Rams took twice as many 3-pointers (32 to 16) and more than doubled the number of free throw attempts than their Herikmer counterparts (22 to nine).
Herkimer County shot 75 percent 3-pointers and 77.8 percent-free throws compared to the Golden Rams 56.2 percent on 3’s and 68.2 percent on free throws.
Anoka-Ramsey closed out the season and tournament with an 85-73 loss to Nassau Community College in the fourth place game.
Fatigued by the first two games on consecutive days, Larson realized third place might be a tough goal against the caliber of a team like Nassau Community College with 6-foot-8, 270-pound post Jaleel Charles. The Golden Rams countered with post Brandon Johnson but foul trouble kept him from containing Charles who finished with a double-double with 28 points and 13 rebounds.
“Brandon had a wonderful tournament but he picked up two fouls right away and we weren’t able to contain Charles,” Larson said. “Brandon got charges and blocked shots all tournament but without him in the game there wasn’t much we could do. We event tried triple teaming him. To be honest we just ran out of gas. We were already road-weary from a hard fight in the first game then an emotional win in the second game.”
Larson said the plan against Nassau was to let them shoot threes. The plan worked since they went 0-13 on 3-pointers.
Lyons had 12 points in the second half but Doe’s 17 points led the team. Johnson had three blocks in the second half and pulled down seven rebounds. Brama grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds, scored seven points and had four assists.
Doe averaged 17.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.6 steals. He fouled out in the opener against Eastfield after scoring 14 points on 5-14 shooting from the field with five rebounds, two assists and three steals.
Eastfield shot 54.8 percent from the field (34-62) in what proved to be the difference on paper. Eastfield’s Ricardo Artis led the way with a game-high 31 points.
Pollard led the Golden Rams with 21 points and Brama added 12 points off the bench.
Despite not collecting a trophy at nationals, the opportunity to return there after 14 years was a sweet reward and hopefully put the Golden Rams back on the map.
“It was a very satisfying year and it’s always nice to be rewarded for the efforts and hopefully this was a stepping stone for us.”
Women reach semifinal
Already with a depleted roster due to injury, a cold-shooting Anoka-Ramsey squad rallied for a 63-51 win against West Georgia Technical College in the national tournament opener at Rochester Community and Technical College, March 13.
Neither team shot well from the field (Anoka was 25.8 compared to West Georgia 29.3) but the Golden Rams made the most of its trips to the free throw line, converting at a 72.5-percent rate (29-40).
Standout guard Olivia Antilla had 25 points and Ashley Carter pulled in 14 rebounds. Guard Maria Loughlin had 11 points, six rebounds and four assists despite playing with a broken hand. Fellow guard Mataya Racek had 11 rebounds and nine points.
Poor shooting in the first half off each of the three national tournament games plagued the Golden Rams efforts as they dropped the next two games including a 77-72 loss to eventual national champion Northland Community and Technical College.
The Golden Rams struggled to score in the opening half and trailed 36-17.
Looking to rally, the Golden Rams out scored Northland in the second half 55-41 but it wasn’t enough to make up for the first half woes.
DeWitt said the Golden Rams cut the lead to just one point with plenty of time on the clock but couldn’t complete the comeback.
“You never know what could’ve happened,” he said. DeWitt wasmaking his fifth straight appearance at nationals and sixth overall. “We were close but the injuries we had really were big losses.”
Racek led the way with 21 points and Antilla had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. The All-Tournament team honoree also had five assists, two steals and one block.
Brookdale Community College ended Anoka-Ramsey’s (25-5) season in a 64-49 loss in the third place game.
“Bottom line is that we were 25-5 in our fifth national tournament in a row and sixth overall trip to nationals for this program so it wasn’t a bad year,” he said. “Sure, it was a little disappointing when you look at it… but the kids played hard and it wasn’t meant to be.”
Antilla has one more season of eligibility left with the Golden Rams but Loughlin and Nikki Schaub each completed their two-years of playing time. Both have to recover from injuries before deciding a next step in college. DeWitt estimates Schaub will not be able return to the floor until January after an ACL tear. Schaub broke her hand late in the season.
“Those are three big holes to be replaced but they each will have the opportunity to move on to play somewhere else if they chose to go that direction,” he said.
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