Men’s Basketball: North Central moves on to Elite Eight
BY PAUL JOHNSON For Sun-Times Media March 16, 2013 10:46PM
North Central's Pat Rourke (12) goes to the basket in front of a packed house at Merner Fieldhouse on March 16 in a victory over Illinois Wesleyan that sent the Cardinals to the Elite Eight. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 18, 2013 8:52PM
For a player who has played the most games in program history, Saturday was his 109th, it seems fitting that North Central College senior Derek Raridon led the Cardinals to the Elite Eight for the first time.
Raridon had 13 points, seven assists and three steals to help lead the Cardinals to an 83-73 win over CCIW rival Illinois Wesleyan to reach the Division III national quarterfinals. North Central will play Middlebury at 7:30 p.m. on March 22 in Salem, Va. with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
“You couldn’t ask for a better ending here at Merner (Fieldhouse),” Raridon said. “It was as packed as I’ve ever seen it. I appreciate all of the fans’ support. It’s been a fun four years. Now, I’m ready to go play in Salem.”
North Central (27-3) took a 46-36 lead at the half to set the tone. Raridon scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half, but as it has been during this tournament run, the bench came up huge again. Jack Merrithey hit two three-pointers sandwiched around a Vince Kmiec layup off a steal to give North Central at 29-22 lead with 8:07 left in the first half. Those buckets were part of a 15-2 run that erased an Illinois Wesleyan lead.
Jack Burchett scored seven points in the half as well, and that was just the start of his night. He wound up with a season-high 18 points to lead the Cardinals on 8-of-10 shooting from the field.
“I thought both Jacks played pretty well,” NCC coach Todd Raridon said. “Little Jack hit a couple of three and got us going offensively. Big Jack, the second half, he was really good inside. When we needed a basket, he seemed to step up and make a play.”
Some of those baskets in the second half were crucial. Last year in the third round of the playoffs, the Cardinals surrendered the lead in the second half against Wooster and lost the game. This time around, however, North Central withstood the run by Wesleyan (23-6).
Wesleyan’s Victor Davis scored 14 of his game-high 21 points early in the second half, with a three-pointer cutting North Central’s lead to 66-63 with 7:46 left in the game. Burchett responded with a rare jumper on the next trip down and also scored in the final minutes with the Titans within four points to help keep them at bay.
Burchett’s performance follows stellar bench contributions by Charlie Rosenberg in the first round against Centre and Brandon Williams against defending national champion Whitewater last week.
“We talk about it all the time, it’s a team game,” Burchett said. “It’s not necessarily us coming off the bench taking over or anything like that, just feeding off the other guys and trying to stay within our roles, not trying to do more than what we should do out there. Coach talks about getting into the flow of the game off the bench, so I think that helps a lot.”
The Cardinals then sealed the game at the line. They were shooting only 66 percent as a team from the stripe coming into the game, but when it counted most, they hit 18-of-21, including 7-of-8 from Pat Rourke in the final minute.
“Coach told us at shoot-around today that tonight is the biggest game of our lives for pretty much every single one of us,” Burchett said. “We’re at home, we have to step up to the line and know we’re going to make it. That’s how we were able to win the ballgame.”
Eric Dortch scored 14 points for Wesleyan and Kevin Reed added 10. Rourke also eclipsed a season high in scoring with 15 points and the Cardinals’ other senior, Aaron Tiknis, scored 11.
Now the Cardinals will prepare for the latest biggest game in program history in Salem, Va. next week.
“It’s been a long four years and we’ve come a long way as a program since my freshman year,” Derek Raridon said. “There’s no better way to go out as a senior than to keep winning in the tournament. Hopefully we go out on top. You couldn’t write a better ending for us as a team.”