The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team is savoring the taste of the season's first victory as it prepares for this weekend's first ever Iowa/Missouri Challenge.
The Grizzlies (1-2) picked up an impressive 95-67 win over Southeastern Illinois College in their season home opener Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the West Plains Civic Center.
"We played better basketball," Head Coach Chris Popp said of the win. "We rebounded from the start, that was maybe the biggest difference, and the energy you get at home may have helped that.
"We had a little bit of a slow start offensively, but we guarded and rebounded well, and that's what led us to getting it going on offense," he added. "When you rebound, get some stops, create some turnovers, you can get out and run. That's what we want to do, and that's how we want to play."
Despite the slow offensive start, the Grizzlies took the lead on the scoreboard within the first minute and never looked back. At the break, they led by 15 points, 42-27.
"We had really good energy. It was competitive, and our guys had fun. That's the way this game is supposed to be. When you fight for it, that's supposed to be the fun," Popp said.
It certainly paid off with some fun plays for fans. In the first half, redshirt sophomore forward Quentin Jones launched himself into the air near the free throw line, readying himself for a huge dunk at the end. A slight miscue, however, sent the ball flying off the back of the rim and back toward the half court line instead, but it kept fans buzzing for several minutes.
Sophomore guard Sardaar Calhoun also entertained the crowd with his skills around the net, turning a failed alley-oop toss into one of the best dunks fans have seen in years. He also brought the crowd to its feet with a one-handed windmill dunk.
The Grizzlies made sure their fun with mixed with a good amount of business, hitting 51% of their shots from the field, 31% from 3-point range and 68% from the charity stripe. They outrebounded the Falcons 42-15.
"The guys we needed to rely on did what they needed to do, but everyone contributed," Popp said. Alex got 6 of his points off the offensive glass. He played really well. Alex Rodrigues also played well off the bench. He scored 7 points and led us in rebounding with 8. Franklyn is getting better every day. He's a talented young man. And between D'Andre (Vilmar), Malik (Tidwell) and Zavien (Smith-Morales), our point guards did a great job controlling things for us.
"We had contributions from a lot of different places. To win over the course of the season, you need that," the coach added.
The Grizzlies will use the next couple of days to prepare for the first ever Iowa/Missouri Challenge. The event, set for Friday and Saturday on the State Fair Community College campus in Sedalia, will pit four NJCAA Division I programs from Region 11 in Iowa against four from Region 16 in Missouri. The region with the most wins at the end of the two days will receive the traveling trophy.
The Grizzlies will face Southeastern Community College (2-0) from West Burlington at 2 p.m. Friday and Marshalltown Community College (1-2) from Marshalltown at 3 p.m. Saturday.
"Year in and year out, Southeastern is a top 25 type of team. They're a long, athletic and talented group. We know we're going to have our hands full," Popp said. "Marshalltown is a bit of a question mark with a new coaching staff, but they've been a good program in the past, and we expect them to continue that trend."
After the Challenge, the Grizzlies will stay on the road for games at Neosho County Community College in Chanute, Kansas, Nov. 12, and Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas, Nov. 13.
Then they return home to host four games in a week – Independence on Nov. 18, Coffeeville Community College Nov. 20, and Cowley County Community College and Neosho County Nov. 22 and 23, respectively, in the Grizzly Classic.
"We will have played seven games in the first 12 days of the season, six of those on the road, then host four home games in a week. We're going to have to keep getting better, learn through live experience and be road warriors in this stretch," Popp said.
For more information about the Grizzly Basketball program, visit www.msuwpgrizzlies.com or call 417-255-7991.