By Patrick Gordon/Lakeland Sports Information
Dayton, OH---No. 10 Lakeland rallied past host Sinclair in the regular season finale on Saturday afternoon, clinching an outright Ohio Community College Athletic Conference (OCCAC) championship for the first time in 18 years. The Lakers enter the District 11 tournament as the top overall seed and will receive an automatic bye into the semifinals (March 8) against the winner of Tuesday's game between fourth-seed Cuyahoga and fifth-seed Columbus State.
The nationally-ranked Lakers improve to 23-5 overall and wrap up the conference slate with an 11-1 record. LCC's only setback in the OCCAC was a 71-69 loss to Owens in mid-February.
It was a tale of two halves on Saturday, as Lakeland found itself trailing by as many as 16 points in the first half before slowly chipping away over the final 20 minutes. The Lakers finally took the lead with less than 20 seconds remaining on a Deran Banton free throw to make it 95-94. Charles Oliver corralled a defensive rebound on the ensuing possession before Martell Medley extended the lead to three with a pair from the line with eight seconds to go.
The hosts had an opportunity to pull even in the waning seconds but came up empty in the game's final possession. Charles Oliver finished with a career-high 36 points and went 16-for-19 from the free throw line. Sophomore guard Deran Banton recorded a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds while classmate Richard Smith added 17 points, eight boards, and six blocks in the victory.
The 2013 District 11 Tournament, used to determine which team will earn a trip to the NJCAA National Tournament, will begin with quarterfinal games on Tuesday (March 5) night. In addition to Cuyahoga hosting Columbus State for the right to play the No. 1 seed Lakeland, No.3 seed Cincinnati State will host No. 6 seed Edison for the right to play No. 2 seed Owens on Friday night.
The Lakers have won back-to-back District Championships but find themselves in unfamiliar territory as the top overall seed entering the tournament. Last year, LCC entered as the four seed and upset the top-seeded Columbus State in the semifinals before a 20-point win over Owens in the final.
Saturday's OCCAC title is the first for 10th year head coach Terry Bowe, who has already made program history with a pair of district titles during his tenure.