By Paul Ce
The Grand Rapids Community College Raiders defeated the Kalamazoo Valley Community College Cougars 72-65 in overtime on Wednesday night at the Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse.
The Raiders displayed their chemistry and continued excellency by sticking to the same game plan they’ve had all season of staying together and exhausting the other team with one crisp pick and roll after the other.
Wednesday night was also Sophomore Night and sophomores Willie Otole, Sammie Ryans, Ike Kanu and Diego Robinson were honored as they played their last regular season game for GRCC.
Team captain Ryans reflected back on his GRCC experience and winning the conference championship, “It’s a blessing, but we still got work to do and we just going to keep going.”
Keep going he did because Ryans opened up the scoring for the Raiders in typical fashion by delivering a three and a put-back layup in consecutive possessions to start the game. Sophomore forward Evan Finch had to exit the game for the Cougars as he suffered a blow to the nose in the first minute of the game that required some medical assistance.
The Cougars were still hanging on with the Raiders though, but his absence could be felt. When Burkett came back in the game, his impact was immediate as he hit back-to-back threes and opened up the game for his teammates with his spacing.
Freshman guard David Hearns, however, kept the Raiders offense flowing with steady play and crashing the boards. Hearns always seemed to be in the right position for the rebound as he pulled down five of them in the first half.
GRCC started to make a substantial run when freshman guard Cam Spicer came into the game. Spicer stole the ball three times in a row allowing easy buckets for the Raiders at the other end. One of these buckets was an absolutely filthy alley-oop to forward Ike Kanu, who slammed it as hard as he possibly could.
Kanu has experienced a lot of growth this season. He started with a limited role in the offense, but as the season progressed, his role progressed with it. His development was apparent Wednesday night as the offense seemed to revolve around his scoring as he had 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the first half.
Kanu spoke on his progression as player stating that, “I just let the game come to me… I play with energy and play with heart.”
This run energized the Raiders leading them to finish the half strong and lead 34-28 at the break.
When the second half began, it started to become a more even game as the Cougars settled into their groove. They were led by Finch and freshman forward JoVaun Jones. Jones worked hard in the paint to overcome the size advantage GRCC had with big men Kanu and Robinson.
The Cougars finally gained the lead with 10 minutes left in the second half, when Finch hit a three from the top of the key. This lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Ryans hit a pair of free throws to regain the Raiders’ lead.
Neither side relented and it remained an incredibly tight affair. As the game went on, the Cougars gained a slight advantage. As the clock ticked off towards the final minute of the second half though, Spicer came through again with incredible defense getting back-to-back steals to tie the game up.
GRCC missed two shots as time expired sending the game into overtime. The score was 59-59 at the end of regulation.
When the game went into overtime, Spicer took over activating his clutch-gene as he scored a layup, played hounding defense, and then got a layup again all in the span of less than a minute.
This killed the Cougars’ spirit and they could not muster up the strength to come back. The game finished 72-65.
The Raiders had five players with double digit points. Kanu led the team with a double-double of 19 points and 16 rebounds. Hearns wasn’t too far behind stuffing the stat sheet with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
An emphatic victory like this could propel them into the postseason and the team seemed to know it.
“I’m excited that they stayed together and they continued to battle into overtime,” Coach Luke Bronkema said after the game. “It was a tough game against a really good team… We’re just excited for a big win.”
After the game the Raiders were in a celebratory mood, but it was restrained as they all had an edge of focus in them.
Kanu provided some context to the feeling in the locker room stating, “I feel great being conference champs, but the thing is we not done yet, we gotta a bigger picture to face. We got to get further than this. This is the first step to our plan.”
Spicer added to this sentiment explaining that, “We can win it all, we just got to stick together.”
Spicer did admit to being joyous over the victory and having such a successful season overall.
“(It) feels great to win with my brothers,” Spicer said. “We been grinding for this all season.”
The win capped off a successful regular season in which the Raiders finished 23-6 overall and as the Michigan Community College Athletic Association Western Conference Champions with a record of 15-3. The Raiders are now in position to win the MCCAA State Championship when they travel to Dearborn, Michigan on Saturday, March 2 to face Henry Ford College, the winner of the Eastern Conference at 3 p.m.
Win or lose, the Raiders will be back in Grand Rapids for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Region XII Championships hosted by GRCC in the Ford Fieldhouse from March 7-9.