WEST PLAINS, Mo. – Clutch free throws in the game’s waning minutes helped Missouri State University-West Plains stave off Region 16 arch rival Three Rivers Community College of Poplar Bluff, Mo., 67-63 Saturday night, Jan. 21, in the annual homecoming game.
The Grizzlies are now 16-5 overall and 2-0 in Region 16 play. Three Rivers is 15-7 overall and 1-3 in region play.
“This was a game that featured two teams playing as hard as they could in a big-time college atmosphere,” Grizzly Basketball Head Coach Yancey Walker said. “Three Rivers came in staring a 1-3 region record in the face, which will be hard for them to overcome. They were the proverbial wounded animal, and they were certainly very dangerous.”
The Raiders showed how dangerous when they went on an 11-0 run to start the game, but the Grizzlies battled back, hitting eight of 16 from the field and eight of 11 from the free throw line, to go into halftime down 27-28.
“We expected them to start fast, and they did,” Walker said. “Their offense is very basic, but they are very good at capitalizing when defensive mistakes are made. We really cut down on those in the second half.”
The Grizzlies came out in the second half and, after a couple of lead changes, went on a 20-8 run to build their own 12-point lead, 52-40, with 8:13 remaining in the period, but the Raiders battled back to knot the score at 60-60 with 3:10 left in the game. Clutch free throws by sophomores Kevin Nelson and Gage Wooten, as well as a bucket by Wooten, finally sealed the victory.
“The difference in the game really came down to bench scoring, second chance points and free throws,” Walker explained. He pointed out the Grizzlies’ bench outscored the Raiders’ 23-16, the Grizzlies gained 12 points off 18 offensive rebounds, and they hit 28 of 36 free throws during the game compared to the Raiders’ 16 of 24 performance from the charity stripe. “Statistically, they did a better job on the offensive boards, but they didn’t capitalize on them as well as we did,” he said.
Overall, the Grizzlies were 18 of 36 from the field for 38 percent, one of 12 from 3-point range for 8 percent, and 28 of 36 from the free throw line for 78 percent.
“We won this game going one for 12 from the three. Going into the game, as a team, we were first in the region in 3-point percentage at almost 44 percent. We were able to make up for that by getting to the free throw line and with our effort on the boards,” Walker said.
Wooten and Nelson led the team on the scoreboard with 15 points each. Eleven of Nelson’s points came from the free throw line. Of the 18 offensive rebounds collected, Wooten grabbed four and sophomore Nathane Simniok had five. Freshman Kervin Rameau added 14 points and was a perfect four for four from the free throw line.
“Kervin came in and gave us a nice lift off the bench,” Walker said. “They really didn’t have an answer for him one-on-one. Gage came out in the second half with a purpose. He scored by outworking everyone else for his offensive rebounds. Nathan also was a warrior on the offensive boards.”
Three Rivers hit 16 of 34 attempts from the field for 46 percent, five of 12 3-pointers for 42 percent and 16 of 24 free throws for 67 percent. Tarius Johnson was the Raiders’ leading scorer with 18 points, followed by Ibrahim Djambo with 12 and Rudy Harrell with 12.
“Obviously, we cannot live in the past and we have to look forward, but I want to say how proud I am of these young men,” Walker said. “In the last two weeks, they’ve defeated Iowa Western Community College (15-5), Mineral Area College (11-9), Indian Hills Community College (19-1 and No. 1 in the nation) and Three Rivers Community College (15-7). That stretch is as tough as anyone in the nation has faced at any level, and they have won every game. It was not always pretty, but they found a way to win, and I’m very proud of these young men.
“I also want to make sure that my assistant coaches, Chad Van Riessen and Drew Richards, receive the credit they are due for this winning streak,” Walker added. “From scouting reports to seeing the little things we need to improve on, to coaching in practice or suggestions in games, we would not have been able to pull this winning streak off without them.”
The Grizzlies will hit the road this week for their third Region 16 contest, meeting State Fair Community College (12-7 overall, 2-0 region) at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25, in Sedalia, Mo. The result will give one of these two teams sole possession of first place in Region 16.
“Again, no time to rest or be satisfied. We play at State Fair on Wednesday to loosen the strangle hold on first place in the region, and they will be ready for us. We need to be ready to be better than they are, or it will be very difficult to win on the road,” Walker said.
For more information about the Grizzly Basketball program, including complete game statistics, visit the team’s website at http://www.wp.missouristate.edu/grizzly/bb.htm or call the Grizzly Basketball office at 417-255-7993.