The Grand Rapids Community College men’s basketball team rattled off their fourth straight win Wednesday night in an 83-74 game against the Jackson College Jets in the Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse.
Sophomore point guard Willie Otole got the Raiders rolling right from the start with a deep made three on their first possession. The Raiders then added two more buckets to open up a 7-0 lead in the early minutes of the first half. The Raiders continued to add to their lead and at the midway point of the first half, held a 21-11 lead.
The Jets, however, managed to keep their poise and went on a 10-4 run to climb back into the game. Raiders’ head coach Luke Bronkema called a timeout, but immediately after, the Jets continued their run and took a 26-25 lead with less than five minutes to play in the first half.
There were moments in the first half where the Raiders seemed flat, playing uninspired basketball. But freshman forward Ike Kanu sparked his team at various moments with loud and emphatic plays. One play in particular lit the Raiders’ fuse when Kanu had a monstrous dunk late in the first half. Kanu let out a loud scream as he flexed his muscles running back down the court.
“It just gives me that fire, gives me energy,” Kanu said of his dunk. “So it makes our whole team want to go at it, so everybody starts getting aggressive and that’s when we start to play our best.”
Despite the spark of momentum Kanu seemed to give his team, the Raiders turned the ball over with under 10 seconds to play in the first half. The Jets took full advantage of the mishap hitting a three-pointer at the buzzer to take a 34-33 lead at half time.
As the second half got underway, the Raiders once again seemed flat but they were about to receive a spark from an unlikely source.
Five minutes into the second half, freshman guard David Hearns received a double technical and was ejected from the game for comments he made to a referee. Bronkema was pleading with the refs trying to get an explanation as to why Hearns had been ejected, but didn’t get much information on the decision.
“I’m going to go back and watch the film,” Bronkema said. “It’s tough to comment on it without seeing everything that happened but, yes in that situation, it was quite maddening.”
Shortly after the Hearns ejection, Bronkema was still talking to the ref as the game played on and one ref blew the whistle and gave an official warning to Bronkema. After the warning, freshman forward D’Avery Moore hit a three causing a palpable shift of energy in the arena. When Moore hit the three, the game was tied at 43. The Raiders then went on a 15-4 run to take a 58-47 lead.
Bronkema talked about the team feeding off the energy that was in the building at that point in the game.
“Our guys decided to pick up the energy a little bit,” Bronkema said. “Cam Spicer really helped us get some energy going. We were a little bit flat most of the game, and I think our approach was a little bit off tonight. But, anytime you can get a win against a quality team like that, it’s a good night.”
The Jets made a late comeback and with just over 90 seconds remaining in the game, the Raiders were clinging to a 76-72 lead. Bronkema called one last timeout for the Raiders in an attempt for the team to regain their composure.
Out of the timeout, Sammie Ryans and Moore hit back-to-back threes to put the game out of reach. Kanu gave insight to the team’s mindset in the final moments of the game saying the key was to trust the game plan.
“Basically, we have to think about the bigger picture,” Kanu said. “Execute, put our trust in coach and follow through with the plan, not let technicals and little things that didn’t go our way get ahead of us and blow the game. We just have to stick to it and stick with our plan.”
Because of the Hearns ejection, a lot of players had to step up and play big minutes for the Raiders. Bronkema specifically praised three players for the role that they played in the team’s victory.
“D’Avery (Moore) played well, Jake (Zandi) played well, Cam (Spicer) played well,” Bronkema said. “All three of those guys off the bench did a really good job, so we’re excited to have those guys coming in and doing what they need to.”
In all, six Raiders scored in double figures Wednesday night. Ryans and Spicer were the leading scorers for the team, each with 16. Kanu had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds in the win.
The Raiders improve to 8-1 in the Michigan Community College Athletic Association Western Conference and remain in first place. Overall, the Raiders are now 15-5 and will go for their fifth straight win when they welcome the Muskegon Community College Jayhawks to the Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse on Friday, Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m.