FLINT, Michigan — Ten days to prepare for the NJCAA National Tournament is just what the hoops doctor ordered for n0. 1-ranked Mott Community College, now 31-1. The Bears are going to need all the time they can get to rest up to make another run at a national championship.
Mott expended every last ounce of effort on Saturday afternoon, outlasting no. 8-ranked Oakland 82-74 to punch its ticket to Danville, Illinois.
Mott struggled mightily in the face half as Oakland seemingly couldn’t miss from the perimeter in the game’s first 10 minutes. The Raiders led by as many as eight in the half and, after a missed front end of a one-and-one, Oakland went into the break up 5.
Sophomore John Taylor and freshman Ralph Eason took it upon themselves in the second half to carry Mott to victory. With the pair hitting on all cylinders, Mott chipped away at first and then put the hammer down in the second half. After shooting an abysmal 30 percent from the floor in the first half, Mott converted 63 percent of its shot attempts in the second half. Led by an offensive explosion from Taylor, Mott opened up a 12-point advantage with five minutes left.
The final five of clock time took about 30 minutes in real time as Oakland turned up the pressure on inbounds plays under the basket, just as they did last month when Mott held off Oakland in the final two minutes. The unsung hero for Mott in the final few minutes was sophomore Kortez Ross, who made a couple plays only a high-level college football recruit could make.
The game, and especially the final few minutes, put a stamp on what has been an incredible season for Taylor. No one could touch the 6-2 combo guard from start to finish. Taylor poured in 41 points on 25 shots including 16-19 free throws, many of which came in crunch time. It was Taylor’s second 40-point game in the last three.
Not to be outdone, Eason poured in 14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals.
The game probably turned in the second half when Oakland’s 6-11 center, Ugochukwu Njoku, was whistled for his fifth foul. I’m not certain why he was even in the game at that point, but losing him really put a chink in Oakland’s defensive armor. His absence really opened up the lane for Eason and Taylor.
Njoku finished with zero points and seven rebounds. Aaron Hayes had a team-high 31 points for Oakland, including 15 from the foul line. I’ve really been impressed with Hayes this season. He’s really an underrated guard. Unfortunately for Oakland, Hayes needed a little more from one of their other top players — Anthony Welch, Jr. The 6-7 forward, probably OCC’s most talented player, scored 12 points with two rebounds and wasn’t a factor in the second half.
Taylor received the tournament’s MVP Award and Mott head coach Steve Schmidt received the MCCAA’s Coach of the Year Award. For as many times as he’s won that award, it should be probably have his name on it.
Mott will enter the NJCAA National Tournament (March 20-25) as the no. 1 seed.
Earlier today, Grand Rapids CC wrapped up the District 8 championship to earn its spot in the national tournament. It’s a shame, in a way, that Oakland’s season is over. Having been to the national tournament on numerous occasions, I can promise you that there will be 7-8 teams there that are not as good as Oakland — Grand Rapids is one of them.