Jefferson City, Mo. – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team is hoping the third time will be the charm when they face the Moberly Area Community College Greyhounds for the Region 16 Championship.
The game is set for 8 p.m. Saturday on the campus of Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
In their two meetings during the regular season, the Grizzlies (20-11) lost to the Greyhounds by double digits.
Grizzly Basketball Head Coach Chris Popp knows what his team needs to do to win against Moberly. The Grizzlies just need to put it into action.
"Our game plan against Moberly won't be that different," he said. "There are a few adjustments to make. We simply need to be tough enough to execute the game plan and rebound the ball.
"We've got to keep them off the glass," he continued. "They are not a team you can give extra possessions to. Moberly has established that they're the team to beat, going undefeated in the region this year."
The Grizzlies (20-11) earned a place in Saturday's championship by defeating the Three Rivers College Raiders from Poplar Bluff 78-73 Thursday evening in the semifinals.
"It was one of the best team wins we've had all year," Popp said. "It wasn't necessarily one of the best games we've played, but in the second half, guys gave for each other, they gave for the team, they did what was asked of them and executed down the stretch."
The game started as a back-and-forth battle with neither team going up by more than 3 or 4 points in the first half. At break, the game was knotted 40-40.
"We struggled to guard them early. They shot the ball well again. That's what Three Rivers does," Popp said.
The Raiders also got eight extra possessions in the first half, thanks to their efforts on the offensive glass.
"We didn't keep them off the boards. Those additional possessions make a difference," the coach said.
The second half
In the second half, the Grizzlies came out cold early and found themselves down by 9 points midway through the period.
"It wasn't so much that we played poorly early in the second half. We just couldn't get the shots to fall and a couple of balls bounced their way," Popp explained. "Regardless, we found ourselves down 9 and our backs against the wall a bit."
Then the tide turned, thanks to lessons learned earlier in the season.
"We've executed down the stretch and won close games before," Popp said. "We've talked about how the battles we've gone through prepare us for these games. This is where you hopefully reap the rewards."
The Grizzlies slowed down their play and executed their plan, running more sets than normal. "We got what we needed," Popp said.
A key play came with just seconds remaining in the game. After a quick time out, freshman point guard Dravon Clayborn hit sophomore guard Eric Lovett on a back-door play. Lovett canned the baseline shot to put the Grizzlies up by 4 points.
Fouled on the shot, Lovett went to the free throw line and added one more point to ensure the win.
"We drew something up, and Dravon ran it and put the pass on the money to Eric, and Eric finished strong through contact. It was a big-time play," Popp said.
White, Edwards shine
Popp praised redshirt freshman guard Evan White for his efforts in the second half.
"Evan was huge. He came in and gave us a boost. He only had 8 points, but they were big points all in the second half. It wasn't just scoring either. He made some tough plays on both ends. He's a warrior, which is what we needed in that moment," the coach said.
He also gave kuddos to sophomore forward Burone Edwards, who took the court still nursing a toe that had been dislocated in the Feb. 23 game against Moberly.
"We originally thought his toe was broken, and I wasn't planning on him to play. I honestly didn't even realize he had suited up until we were in the locker room right before the game," the coach explained.
"His toe was swollen and sore, and he aggravated it a couple of times last night. He overcame the pain for his team, played with a lot of energy and made a difference for us. That was a warrior's performance," Popp added.
Freshman guard Sardaar Calhoun led the team in scoring with 18 points. Lovett finished the night with 14, and Edwards and White added 8 apiece. Edwards led the Grizzlies in rebounding with six boards.
For more information about the Grizzly Basketball program, visit www.msuwpgrizzlies.com or call 417-255-7991.
For complete statistics of the Grizzlies' games this season, visit www.njcaa.org/sports/mbkb/2018-19/div1/teams/MissouriStateUniversityWestPlains.