It's hard to put forth your best effort when your starting lineup is on the bench.
That's what the Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team discovered this past weekend when they faced the No. 2 and No. 8 teams in the nation at the JUCO Preseason Elite 8 Tournament at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.
The Grizzlies (0-2) fell to No. 2 Ranger College, Ranger, Texas, 100-84 Friday evening, then dropped their game to No. 8 South Plains College, Levelland, Texas, 98-79 Saturday afternoon.
"We spent the weekend in foul trouble. Those teams are too good to not have your best lineups on the floor," Grizzly Basketball Head Coach Chris Popp said.
"It was a discouraging weekend in results and the way we played at times, but I also saw a team that can have a great season. We can fix some things, but we have to have our guys on the floor," he added.
The Grizzlies played the Rangers close early until midway through the first period when the Rangers stretched their lead to double digits with five minutes to play. By halftime, the score was 44-30.
"Our defensive scheme took them out of their structure offensively, then they spread us out and went at us with the dribble. We need to take care of the ball better and keep the ball in front of us on defense individually," Popp said. "On the flip side, we settled for a lot of perimeter shots, too many. We have to get to the paint."
That's hard to do when your players are on the bench in foul trouble. Sophomore guard Sardaar Calhoun, sophomore point guard D'Andre Vilmar and freshman guard Nico Hill all fouled out of the game, and sophomore forward Alex Peterson spent most of the second half on the bench with four fouls.
"Fouls not only benched our players, but led them to shooting 42 free throws to our 24," Popp said.
"Ranger is the most physical team we'll play," the coach added. "They'll push you, they'll hold you, and hassle you for 40 minutes. That's their M.O. That's how Coach Billy Gillispie's teams have always been. It is hard to simulate and prepare in practice."
"Daar was playing well until he fouled out with five minutes remaining," Popp said. "D'Andre was very good all weekend, especially against Ranger. He was making them pay for pressuring the ball, but he was only able to play 13 minutes because of foul trouble."
Foul trouble wasn't the only culprit in the Grizzlies' loss to the Texans Saturday. Rebounding also played a role in the game. The Grizzlies were outrebounded 35-18.
"We lost it in the paint Saturday. We settled for perimeter jump shots. We lost on the glass and we didn't keep the ball out of the paint, either, giving them too many straight line drives and post touches," Popp said. "Giving up 17 extra possessions against a top 10 team isn't going to get it done."
The Grizzlies started the game strong, but both Peterson, Horton and redshirt sophomore forward Quentin Jones quickly found themselves in foul trouble. In fact, Peterson's night ended just five minutes after it began when he committed his fifth foul.
With Peterson and Jones on the bench, the Texans made their move late in the first half. At the 9:23 mark, the Grizzlies led by 3. By the turn, they found themselves down 52-32 at the break.
"South Plains made a push in the last nine minutes of the first half. Outside of those nine minutes, we outscored them, but that stretch made the difference," Popp said.
Calhoun and Horton led the Grizzlies in scoring with 19 points each, and Jones added 10.
"There were a lot of positives in spots. A number of guys did very good things. We still have to figure some things out defensively, but we have the personnel to get where we want to be. We just have to do some things better," Popp said.
Season home opener
The Grizzlies host their season home opener at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, against Southeastern Illinois College at the West Plains Civic Center.
They then return to the road for two games this weekend at the first ever Missouri/Iowa Challenge in Sedalia. They will face Southeastern Community College from West Burlington at 2 p.m. Friday and Marshalltown Community College at 3 p.m. Saturday. Both games will be played at State Fair Community College.
"We've only played two games," Popp reminded. "Moving forward, we know it's going to take work. After a weekend like that, that has to be the response – work. If our guys take that mentality moving forward with a determined mindset, we'll be okay."
For more information about the Grizzly Basketball program, visit www.msuwpgrizzlies.com or call 417-255-7991.