West Plains, Mo. – For the third time this season, the Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team had to fend off a second-half scoring charge by the Three Rivers Raiders.
And, for the third time this season, the Grizzlies successfully completed that task Saturday when they outlasted the Raiders 114-101 in Missouri State-West Plains' annual homecoming game at the West Plains Civic Center.
The Grizzlies, who are now 18-8 overall and 4-1 in Region 16 play, have struggled much of the season with second-half comebacks by their opponents. It's an issue that must be corrected going forward, Head Coach Chris Popp said.
"We've got to continue to get better defensively. We've said it from the beginning – we can score with anybody. How far we go will be dictated by how well we defend and rebound," he explained.
There have been signs of improvement. "In the half court, we've gotten better. It's defensive transition where we need work," Popp said.
"It's one of the hardest thing to coach," he continued. "Every time down the court it's different – different numbers, different positions. It's never the same, so you can't exactly simulate what you might see. There has to be a real focus and determination to get stops in transition."
The Grizzlies seem to be able to accomplish that mission in the first half. They put themselves in position to force the team from Poplar Bluff into low percentage shots or, in several instances, a charging foul.
The result was a 62-48 advantage at the break.
Second half struggles
In the second half, however, the Raiders' shooters came alive.
"The 3-point shot is such a weapon anymore, and that's what they do," Popp said. "Their main guy, Tristan Jarrett, made some plays, but he also had help."
The Raiders increased their offensive output by 5 percent, going from 45 percent from the field in the first half to 50 percent in the second.
"It's really all about the defensive end for us," Popp said. "The biggest part of it that our guys have to understand is to have that sense of urgency to get there."
Offensively, the Grizzlies continue to play well. Five players scored in double figures. Sophomore guard Eric Lovett led the way with 29 points, followed by freshman guard Sardaar Calhoun with 22 points.
Campbell scored the bulk of his points from the perimeter, draining five of six 3-point attempts.
"When Johde is rolling like that, he is fun to watch," the coach said. "That production out of Johde is really big for us. It gives us that third elite shooter."
Freshman guard D'Andre Vilmar led the Grizzlies in rebounds with 13.
"D'Andre nearly had a triple double," Popp said, pointing out his 9 points and seven assists for the night. "He continues to get better and is bringing a lot to the table for us right now. He's our go-to defender, and he's rebounding well. He plays with a great energy about him."
Popp also praised the homecoming crowd for bringing great energy, as well.
"I believe it was the best crowd we've had in three years. We want to thank First Baptist Church for sponsoring and everyone who came out. It was a great atmosphere," the coach said.
Hall of Fame induction
Prior to tip-off, members of the Grizzly Booster Club inducted Grizzly Basketball standout David Augustine to the Grizzly Athletics Hall of Fame. Augustine was among the program's first group of recruits and played for the team from 1993-1995.
"I truly enjoyed visiting with David and getting to know him and his family," Popp said. "History is so important. Hopefully, it reminds my players that they are part of something bigger than a game, a team or even a year. I hope that my players appreciate all of those who came before them and all they have done, as well as their part of what becomes the history of our program."
More information about the induction ceremony will be provided at a later date.
With their 4-1 region record, the Grizzlies are sitting in second place behind No. 21 Moberly Area Community College, which is 6-0 in the region and 20-5 overall.
The Grizzlies will try to up their region record Wednesday when they travel to Sedalia to face State Fair Community College.
Their next home game is Monday, Feb. 18, against Missouri Community College Athletic Conference (MCCAC) foe St. Louis Community College. Tip-off is 7 p.m. at the civic center.
For more information about the Grizzly Basketball program, call 417-255-7991.
For complete statistics of the Grizzlies' games this season, visit the team's page on the NJCAA website.