Grizzlies split their games at Iowa tournament

Freshman guard Sardaar Calhoun lays in 2 points during a recent home game at the West Plains Civic Center. (Missouri State-West Plains Photo)
Freshman guard Sardaar Calhoun lays in 2 points during a recent home game at the West Plains Civic Center. (Missouri State-West Plains Photo)

OTTUMWA, Iowa – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team split its games at the Reed Overhead Door Classic at Ottumwa, Iowa.

The 16th-ranked Grizzlies defeated Carl Sandburg College, Galesburg, Illinois, 102-73, Friday, but fell to No. 3 College of Southern Idaho (CSI), Twin Falls, 118-91. 

The Grizzlies' overall season record now stands at 8-4. The tournament was hosted by No. 12 Indian Hills Community College.

Although the tournament's outcome wasn't what the Grizzlies and Head Coach Chris Popp would have liked, it revealed progress in the Grizzlies' game.

"Our team has gotten better," Popp said. "We've still got a young group that's trying to figure it out, but we've gotten better defensively, and that's where our focus will remain. Offensively, we will work and improve, but our focus will continue to be on the defensive end and finding ways to get stops."

The Grizzlies found those stops against Carl Sandberg, a NJCAA Division II school that won its conference last season.

"We were down early, but we responded," Popp said of his team's effort against the Chargers. "They came out and came at us. Carl Sandberg is a solid team."

The Grizzlies held a 48-40 advantage at halftime and out-scored the Chargers 54-33 in the second half.

Three Grizzlies scored in double figures. Sophomore guard Eric Lovett had 26, freshman guard Sardaar Calhoun added 19 and sophomore guard Montel Stewart contributed 12.

Foul trouble and missed layups prove costly

The CSI Golden Eagles proved to be a more formidable foe. Early foul trouble in the first half and missed layups in the second kept the Grizzlies from grounding the Eagles.

"There were several factors in that game that make the score look worse than it was. I felt like our guys came out ready to play, and they played well early," Popp said.

"Early foul trouble affected us, for one," the coach explained. "Eric played two minutes in the first half. Then, Alex (Peterson), picking up his second early, changed things significantly. Their big hurt us. He was struggling to guard Alex and likely would have had to sit. With Alex out, he remained in and effective."

It was a 3-point game with seven minutes to play, and the Grizzlies seemed to have some momentum when yet another player had to take a seat with fouls. Freshman guard Houston Johnson spent most of the first half on the bench with Lovett and Peterson.

Despite foul trouble and several easy baskets in transition for the Golden Eagles, the Grizzlies were only down by 13 at half.

Missed scoring opportunities by the Grizzlies allowed the Golden Eagles to extend their lead in the second half.

"Coming out in the second half, we missed a lot of shots, several layups we normally make," Popp said. "If we shoot 80 percent on layups and a couple of foul calls go the other way, it's a different game altogether.

"As disappointed as I am with the loss and the score, I know we can play with that team. Another day it could have been a different story," the coach added.

Three Grizzlies scored in double figures against CSI, as well. Calhoun led the way in this contest with 29 points. Lovett added 17, all of which were scored in the second half. Freshman point guard Dravon Clayborn scored 11.

"Sardaar and Eric were great all weekend. Both of them have responded since our struggles at the Cowley County tournament," Popp said.

"Montel played really well this weekend, too. When he was on the floor, he made an impact," the coach added. "On Saturday, Alex showed flashes of what we need from him. If he learns to bring it consistently, he will be a force for us the rest of the way."

Grizzlies return home this week

The Grizzlies' final two home games of the fall semester are set for this week. Tuesday, they will play Sunrise Christian Academy from Bel Aire, Kansas, at 7 p.m. at the West Plains Civic Center. Saturday, they will face Northern Oklahoma College-Tonkawa at 7:30 p.m. in the annual Grizzly Toy Toss Game sponsored by Holiday Inn Express.

Saturday's tipoff was moved back 30 minutes due to the annual West Plains Christmas Parade, Popp said.

"Sunrise Christian is the most talented team we play. They've got three players who have signed high major and many more division I players on the roster," Popp said. "NOC-Tonkawa is having another good year. They're a long, athletic team with a physical monster inside."

The Grizzlies will finish the fall semester of action on the road at Southwest Tennessee Community College Dec. 14.

"I love my guys. We've had our struggles, but three of our four losses were to top 15 teams, one of those being in overtime, and the other loss was on the road against a very good Cowley County team," Popp said. "I feel like this team's headed in the right direction and our best basketball is ahead of us. I'm encouraged."

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 http://www.njcaa.org/sports/mbkb/2018-19/div1/teams/MissouriStateUniversityWestPlains.