West Plains, Mo. – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team knew it would have to turn in top notch performances to upset the two nationally-ranked teams it faced this past weekend in the Hirsch Feed & Farm Supply New Year's Classic at the West Plains Civic Center.
But struggles on the glass and at the free throw line cost the Grizzlies the opportunity for wins over the 15th-ranked Indian Hills Community College Warriors of Ottumwa, Iowa, and the ninth-ranked Coffeyville Community College Red Ravens from Coffeyville, Kansas.
Friday night the Grizzlies fell to the Warriors in a heartbreaking overtime loss, 105-98. Saturday, they dropped an 82-74 decision to the Ravens.
In both games, the Grizzlies started slow, an issue that's plagued the team in several previous games this season. "For whatever reason, it took us some time to get going. We have had that issue at times this season and it has cost us," Grizzly Basketball Head Coach Chris Popp said.
On Friday, the Warriors jumped out to a 15-4 lead early in the contest, but the Grizzlies chipped away at the margin and went into halftime down 6. The second half was a back and forth affair as the lead fluctuated from 11 to 4 points.
"Coach (Hank) Plona implemented a triangle and two defense to smother our leading scorers, Eric and Sardaar. That's something we had not seen. It definitely threw us off a bit early," Popp said. "But those two really responded, did not force situations, were both efficient overcoming it. We settled in and were able to get them shots. More importantly, others stepped up."
The Grizzlies scored the first five points in the overtime period, but missed free throws, along with offensive rebounds and fouls at the rim, cost them the lead and the game.
"You can easily point to free throws and rebounding as the keys in the second half and overtime. Popp said. "We did our job with initial defense. Those offensive boards and easy baskets can be deflating.
"Overall we were 66 percent from the line, but that is deceiving," he added. "We missed the front end of one-and-one's and multiple key free throws that would have won us the game at the end.
"There is a mental toughness needed in those moments. Throughout the season we have made those more often than not. We won't make them every time, but I've got confidence in the guys we have going to the line," he said.
Calhoun led all scorers with 28 points and Lovett finished with 16 on just seven shot attempts. Freshman forward Alex Peterson added 18 points, and freshman Dravon Clayborn had his best statistical night with 16 points and a season high 13 assists.
Another slow start
Saturday night's contest against the Ravens began in similar fashion. The Grizzlies came up empty in their first six possessions, which allowed the Ravens to gain an 11-0 lead before the home team scored its first basket.
"There are several things we worked on and emphasized to fix our early game woes. We reverted a bit this weekend. The way Coffeyville guards baits you into quick shots to an extent. We were getting good looks, but they were early and all perimeter shots." Popp explained.
"They are high risk, high reward in the sense that if they fall, the momentum is flipped and we may be sitting here with a win," he said.
Unfortunately they didn't. Coffeyville was able to convert those missed shots into points.
"Those quick shots gave them an advantage on the boards, in offensive transition and with time of possession in the first half." Popp explained. "I was pleased with the way we guarded in half-court defense. If we can eliminate a few transition baskets and keep teams off the glass, we can be a very good defensive team."
The Ravens dominated the offensive glass throughout the first half, scoring 22 of their 35 points on second chance baskets.
"It is absolutely frustrating. We followed the scout, guarded how we were supposed to, forced tough shots, and then gave up offensive rebounds." Popp said. "We set a goal of 10 offensive rebounds or less in a game. They had 12 at half. Our guys responded to the challenge in the second half. I am hopeful that shows growth and continues."
Although the Grizzlies cut the lead to 2 points in the second half, they couldn't overcome the deficit in the end.
Lovett led the home team with 20 points, followed by Clahoun with 12, sophomore guard Johde Campbell with 11 and Clayborn with 10.
"I need to say thank you to Hirsch Farm & Feed Supply who sponsors this classic every year. Their help allows us to bring in teams of this quality." Popp said.
The Grizzlies' now hit the road for two games. Tonight, they will play Labette Community College in Parsons, Kansas, then head to Tonkawa, Oklahoma, to face Northern Oklahoma College on Thursday.
Their next home game is Saturday against Mineral Area College. Tipoff is 7 p.m. at the civic center. This also will be the first Region 16 contest of the year for the Grizzlies.
"The crowds came out and gave us a great atmosphere this weekend. We truly appreciate that. We have a great group of guys that I believe are fun to watch and Saturday should be a great game," Popp said.
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.