The Buccaneers improved to 3-1 on the season by knocking off the 2021-22 NJCAA Division III national champions almost one year after falling to the Blazers in the inaugural Classic.

“Last year, they put it on us pretty good on our home floor, and then went on to win the national championship before coming into this season ranked No. 1,” Blinn head coach Scott Schumacher said of North Lake. “They’re very, very good; they’re very well-coached; they really guard and get after you. I told my guys, ‘Congratulations,’ afterwards because I really felt like we stepped up to the plate, executed, and played really well.”

The Buccaneers have won three consecutive games.

Sophomore guard Marco Foster gave Blinn the only lead it would need all night when he opened the contest with a 3-pointer and followed it up with another make from long distance for a quick 6-0 edge.

Blinn built several double-digit leads through the first half, going ahead by as much as 13 after sophomore guard Bakari LaStrap swiped a pass and took the distance for a dunk and a 29-16 cushion.

However, the Blazers continued to fight and trimmed the hosts’ advantage down to 34-25 heading into halftime.

(Pictured: Blinn College sophomore guard Bakari LaStrap, center, drives to the rim for a layup during a game against Dallas College-North Lake on Nov. 11)

“When you play basketball, you want to watch the ball go in the hoop every time you shoot,” LaStrap said. “Sometimes, though, you have to hunker down and play defense when that’s what it takes to win games. I think we saw that in the first half, and then when the offenses started to ramp up in the second half, we had to tighten up down the stretch to finish the job.”

Both teams found their offensive grooves after the intermission, and even as the Bucs looked poised to pull away, North Lake clawed back.

“It was a tough, hard-fought street fight,” Schumacher added.

(Pictured: Blinn College head men’s basketball coach Scott Schumacher talks to his team during a game against Dallas College-North Lake on Nov. 11)

Foster hit a 3 to give Blinn another 13-point lead, and sophomore forward Jan NJock sank a jumper to make it 42-30 moments later, but the Blazers ripped off a 12-2 run to pull within 42-39.

A layup from sophomore guard Damian Watson kickstarted a short 7-0 burst for the Bucs as the lead returned to 10 (49-39), but the Blazers rallied again.

This time, North Lake used a 10-4 push to climb within 55-52 and were still close at 57-54 before Blinn finally put an end to the threat. 

Watson hit one of two free throws with 5:30 remaining, starting the Bucs on an 8-0 move that ultimately put the game out of reach.

“We had to be dogs tonight,” Watson said. “We had to crash the glass, drive to the basket, and do the things we needed to do to get this win. There are guys on this team who remember how North Lake beat us last year, and we took that to heart, so this win feels good.”

The Blazers cut the lead to six with 1:26 to go, but Blinn sophomore forward Alex Tsynkevich scored on a putback, LaStrap hit two free throws, and sophomore guard Elijah Elliott made one from the charity stripe to put the Bucs ahead 11.

Foster paced Blinn with 20 points. LaStrap finished with 14 points, Watson had 11, and Tsynkevich tallied 10.

The Bucs finish play in their home tournament when they take on Dallas College-Cedar Valley at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Kruse Center.

Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 42 NJCAA national championships since 1987.