The Grand Rapids Community College men’s basketball team finished sixth in the nation after playing in the National Junior College Athletic Association Div. II national championship tournament from March 22 to 25.
The team lost Saturday, March 25, to No. 7 ranked and four seeded Parkland College (IL), 70-81, in the final game of a consolation bracket to determine who would finish in fifth and sixth place.
GRCC played “a close game until the last few minutes” according to Head Coach Luke Bronkema, but they ran out of energy which put Parkland on top.
“We had a lot of positive energy, but ran out of energy down the stretch,” Bronkema said. “We played four games in four days which was a lot for a team to play.”
In points, Sophomore Guards Jeff Drake-Todd and Arthur Pearson finished with the first and second team highs, with Drake scoring 22 and Pearson with 16. Pearson led the way in assists and rebounds with 10 and seven.
NJCAA Tournament Recap
GRCC was able to compete in the national tournament after winning the NJCAA Division II District nine and Region 12 West basketball tournament March 11, where they defeated Mid Michigan Community College (81-76), Muskegon Community College (78-74) and Ancilla College (81-70), respectively.
In the first round of the national tournament, March 22, GRCC played No. 2 ranked and three seeded Essex County College (NJ) and came out on top by two points, 74-72.
In the game, GRCC executed their gameplan “to a tee,” according to Head Coach Luke Bronkema, which helped them nudge their way to victory.
“Offensively, our plan was to drive the lane and kick the ball out for a scoring opportunity,” Bronkema said. “If the look wasn’t there, we’d drive again and kick the ball out and the guys were great with that.”
As far as positive energy and effort, the team was on par with Essex County, if not better according to Bronkema.
“Our effort and energy, positive energy, was definitely not a problem in the game. It was crucial for us to come out with positive energy and there was no shortage in the game.”
In points, Pearson led the way with 25, Drake-Todd was second with 21 and Freshman Guard Zach Pangborn contributed 18. In assists, Pearson and Drake-Todd tied with team highs of five.
In rebounds, Sophomore Center Max Prendergast grabbed a team high of 10, with Pearson grabbing eight.
GRCC then played Louisburg College (NC) March 23, in the elite eight round, losing by eight, 73-81.
Poor shooting was the dagger for GRCC as they shot 22 percent in the second half, not being able to get back in the game.
Louisburg played full court press the whole game as well, which caused the team to “play fatigued and not at the level of basketball” they wanted, according to Bronkema.
In points, Drake-Todd had the team high with 20, followed by Pangborn with 18. Drake-Todd and Pearson both had team highs in assists with each finishing with four. Freshman Forward Corey Jones grabbed a team high in rebounds with 10, followed by Sophomore Center Max Prendergast with nine.
After losing to Louisburg, GRCC was put into a consolation bracket for the teams that had lost in the tournament. GRCC played Niagara County Community College (NY) in the first round and won, 84-78.
The team played with a new level of energy and “made enough free throws at the end of the game” to win according to Bronkema.
“Our guys stepped up and made the free throws at the end,” Bronkema said. “We also shot the ball well which obviously helped us win the game.”
In points, Drake-Todd finished with the top scoring output of 22 and Pearson in a close second with 19. Drake-Todd and Pearson also finished with the two most assists with Drake-Todd earning seven and Pearson with four. Prendergast grabbed the most rebounds, finishing with 12.
With the loss they suffered to Parkland, GRCC’s season ended with a regular season record of 19-12 and a conference record of 11-7.
Reflections on a successful season
Bronkema is happy with how the season went and the record they achieved at the end of the season.
“It feels great,” Bronkema said. “Sixth place is pretty sweet. We go down as the second best team ever.”
But more importantly, Bronkema is proud of the team and the work they put in to have a great season.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Bronkema said. “Our hard work we put in at practice every day and that we got better every day made it all possible.”
Basketball skills weren’t the only thing improved over the season.
“So many of these players developed character as the season went on,” Bronkema said. “They were taught life lessons and I think persistence was the biggest life lesson. They learned not to give up.”