Chris Popp expects a challenge for his Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team today when it hosts 19th-ranked Coffeyville Community College.
Tipoff is at 7 p.m. in the Joe Paul Evans Arena at the West Plains Civic Center. The game is being sponsored by 5D Screen Printing.
"Coffeyville is coached by a legend, Jay Herkelman," the Grizzlies' head coach said, pointing out Herkelman has a .774 winning percentage in his 24 years at the helm of the Red Ravens. "Our team is going to be challenged from a toughness standpoint, which is an area that comes and goes for us. Our guys will have a chance to respond against a really good team at home."
Monday's game vs. Independence
Toughness has been inconsistent for the 3-5 Grizzlies this season, and it has cost them several games, including Monday's home contest against Independence Community College. After dropping an 82-81 decision to the Pirates in Independence, Kansas, Nov. 13, the Grizzlies found themselves on the short end of a 94-91 decision Monday night.
The loss Monday nearly mirrored the loss five days earlier. After building a double digit lead, the Grizzlies let down their guard and allowed the Pirates to charge back and take their first lead of the game with about two minutes remaining.
Although they had chances to regain the advantage, the Grizzlies were unable to convert those opportunities before the final buzzer sounded.
"It has been an epidemic for us the past two years," Popp said of the Grizzlies' inability to extend leads. "We have an issue with being comfortable when we get the lead. We lack a sense of urgency that we have to maintain. We have to find an edge to our game and our approach.
"We have a few guys individually who play with an edge. We have to figure out who to play when we have a lead," he added. "We have to play people who will compete just as hard with a lead as they do without, and it may not be our top five."
Fouls also have been giving the Grizzlies problems, especially the front court players. "Our primary three bigs – Quentin Jones, Alex Peterson and Nico Hill – sat or played in foul trouble throughout the game. It is a difficult issue to address because in each occasion, it is from different things. Sometimes it is partially on the guards giving up penetration, sometimes it's squarely on them when they're doing things like slapping at the ball or going over the back," Popp said.
"We realize they're going to pick up fouls. What we have to do is eliminate the unnecessary ones. It's something we need to change because we need to have them on the floor," the coach added.
Another area in need of immediate fixes is the Grizzlies' defense. "It's not about scheme, it's more about consistency. A big part of it is guarding the ball," Popp said. "We have some issues offensively, but the defensive end is what we need to address quickly. It will take a mindset and determination to change."
Three Grizzlies scored in double figures against Independence. Sophomore transfer guard Taveon Horton led with 23 points, followed by sophomore guard/forward Sardaar Calhoun with 21. Jones, a redshirt sophomore forward, had 19.
"Q has had a four-game stretch where he seems to be turning a corner. He's figured out what he needs to do – scoring around the basket more, getting in the paint," Popp said. "Even while playing in foul trouble, he had 19 points and eight rebounds."
Popp also praised the efforts of freshman point guard Zavien Smith-Morales. Although he only had 3 points, three assists and two steals in 20 minutes of play, he gave the Grizzlies stability offensively.
"Zavien moves the ball. When he's on the floor, we're good against the press, good against the pressure. He's come a long way in a month," Popp said.
Popp said he would like to thank The Fish Shack for sponsoring Monday's game. "We really appreciate the support we receive from our sponsors," he added.