West Plains, Mo. – Anytime the Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzlies and Three Rivers College Raiders meet on the basketball court, fans know it's going to be a battle.
And Tuesday night's installment of this historic Region 16 rivalry didn't disappoint. In a battle that came down to the last seconds of overtime, the 16th-ranked Grizzlies held off the Raiders 112-110 at the West Plains Civic Center arena.
The win ups the Grizzlies' record to 4-1.
"That's the way it always seems to go with Three Rivers," Grizzly Basketball Head Coach Chris Popp said. "We've had two overtime games and two one-possession games in the six meetings we've had since I've been here. It never seems to matter who's good and who's not. That's how it is."
Sophomore guard stands out in first half
The Grizzlies struggled early in the first half. They were down by as many as 8 points before sophomore guard Johde Campbell took control and canned three 3-pointers to help the Grizzlies dig out of their hole.
"That's the Johde we see every day in practice and know him to be. He can really shoot it," Popp said. "We took him off the point to try to get him going in the first four games, but we needed him there last night, and he came through. He played well. Hopefully, that's just the beginning."
Campbell sank five 3-pointers for the game and ended the contest as the Grizzlies' leading scorer with 21 points.
The remainder of the first half proved to be a nip-and-tuck battle as each team held small leads. The Grizzlies appeared to have the upper hand in the waning seconds of the period until a defensive breakdown lead to a quick 3 by the Raiders, sending the teams into the break knotted at 53-53.
"The last shot of the first half is a perfect example of the way things seem to be going for us defensively," Popp said. "We get a deflection, the ball bounces around and they end up shooting a wide-open 3-pointer in the corner.
"We've been harping on it, but we have to guard the 3-point line better," he continued. "It's not as simple as being close to a guy. Those open shots come off ball movement or giving up dribble penetration. They also come in defensive transition, which is another area of concern for us right now.
"When we're guarding the ball, they're not shooting the 3s. The issue comes with all of the things that lead up to open shots," Popp said.
Teams remain close in second half
The second half served up more of the same. Both teams kept their opponents within striking distance offensively. Key plays by sophomore forward Burone Edwards and freshman point guard Dravon Clayborn late in the period gave the Grizzlies leads, but missed free throws left the door open for the Raiders, and the teams finished regulation tied at 97-97.
"We have good free throw shooters who are missing timely free throws. In this case, we missed our last five in regulation that would have all ended the game," Popp said. "I've got confidence in the guys that were there."
In overtime, the Grizzlies built a 6-point lead only to see it slip away again against a sharp-shooting Raider team that took advantage of some inopportune Grizzly turnovers.
The final points of the game came with just four seconds remaining. Tied at 110-110, Grizzly sophomore guard Eric Lovett was fouled on a drive to the basket. The violation sent him to the free throw line where he sank both of his shots to give the Grizzlies the win.
Others step up later in the game
"We had several guys step up in different spots," Popp said. "Burone struggled for much of the game, but came back in to finish it and came up with a big offensive rebound on a free throw and put it back in. Dontell Brown was good in spurts and was another one who came up huge for us late in the game. Houston Johnson contributed important minutes for us late when we needed defense and made a difference for us. Dravon played his worst half of basketball in the first half, then turned it around to help us win it down the stretch. Eric Lovett made the game-winning free throws, and then there is Johde who carried us for a stretch in the first half.
"The hard thing about coaching this team is a lack of consistency and knowing what you are going to get from who at any given time," the coach continued. "The great thing about coaching this team is that we have so many guys who are capable, contribute and can come through at any given time. A lot of guys made game-winning plays down the stretch. That's the bottom line. We fought and found a way to win."
Joining Campbell as double-digit scorers for the Grizzlies were Lovett with 19 points, freshman guard Sardaar Calhoun with 17, Edwards and Brown each with 14, and sophomore guard Niekie Thomas with 11.
Defense still a concern
Still, the Grizzlies' defense is a concern moving forward.
"We adjusted well at times defensively. We show signs of being a good defensive team. We simply must be more disciplined in what we do," Popp said. "Consistency shows discipline. We lack the discipline at this point to execute our defense consistently. If we want to be great, consistency will have to come."
Popp praised the hometown crowd and their efforts in cheering on the Grizzlies. "That's the best weekday crowd we've had since I've been here. There was great energy. Hopefully, that just builds," the coach said.
Team heads to Kansas this weekend
The Grizzlies go on the road this weekend to compete in the Cowley College Classic in Arkansas City, Kansas. They'll play the host Tigers at 7 p.m. Friday then face fourth-ranked Coffeyville Community College at 1 p.m. Saturday.
"We have two big games this weekend. Cowley is traditionally good in the Jayhawk Conference. We'll be playing a true road game against them," Popp said. "They're going to be the toughest, most physical team we've seen. They're going to grind, and they're going to beat you up from end to end.
"Coffeyville may be the best team I've seen in three years. They've got the talent, the right pieces and are well-coached. We have a challenge in front of us with them," the coach added.
The Grizzlies will return home to host the Mega Motorsports Thanksgiving Classic Nov. 23 and 24 at the West Plains Civic Center. They will face Murray State College for the second time this season at 7 p.m. Nov. 23 and Southwest Tennessee Community College at 6 p.m. Nov. 24.
"These are two good teams. Murray State pushed us to the end down there Nov. 6, and Southwest Tennessee is always good. They're a talented group, long and athletic," Popp said.
For more information about the Grizzly Basketball program, visit the team's website or call 417-255-7991.
For complete statistics of the Grizzlies' games this season, visit the team's NJCAA page.