Harper College's men's basketball team did its best to expect the unexpected on Wednesday.
Good thing, because the Hawks didn't know much about their NJCAA Region IV quarterfinal opponent, Mid-Michigan Community College.
"We really didn't know what to prepare for," said Harper guard Bradley Reibel.
No matter. The third-seeded Hawks (17-13) advanced to a tournament semifinal appearance by beating the seventh-seeded Lakers 82-76.
Everything looked good for the Hawks early, as the combination of former Prospect High School players Will Botefuhr and Reibel combined to score 8 of the Hawks' first 14 points. Botefuhr finished with 6 points and used his size advantage to score 4 points in the game's early minutes.
Facing an 11-point deficit with 8:28 remaining in the first half, MMCC (15-13) clamped down on the defensive end. Energizing the team from Mount Pleaseant, Mich., was was Kyle Shomin (13 points). The 6-foot-4 freshman started a 10-0 run which turned a 32-26 Harper lead into a 36-32 Hawks deficit.
"We thought we defended them fairly well," said second-year MMCC coach Kaleb House.
When the Lakers' offensive surge was over, the Hawks had gone scoreless for 3:05.
"We didn't close out the half the way we wanted to," Harper guard Kevin Walsh said. "We had some defensive lapses."
Harper trailed 35-34 at the half, but MMCC started strong in the second half, getting its biggest lead of the game (9 points) with 9:14 left.
The Lakers' Erik Lawton, who'd averaged 20.4 points this season, finished with a team-high 24 points.
"It didn't look good for about 33 minutes," said Reibel.
But the Lakers finally gave up the lead with 5:26 remaining.
"Once we started moving the ball," said Walsh, "our guys started making shots. The whole team gets more confident."
"They just made some big plays down the stretch," House said.
In the game's waning minutes, Walsh made most of them. He had 8 of his game-high 25 points with the outcome hanging in the balance.
And in crunch time, Harper's defense also got the job done, holding the Lakers to 8 points in the game's final 3:17.
"It was a real competitive game," Lawton said. "(Harper) just came out with it."
The Hawks advance to a Friday semifinal appearance against Joliet Community College at College of DuPage.