By Sean Chase
The Grand Rapids Community College men’s basketball team began their season on Friday, Feb. 19, upsetting the nationally ranked Muskegon Community College Jayhawks, 86-75, inside the Gordon Hunsberger Arena.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Jeff Bauer, head coach of the GRCC men’s basketball team. “We haven’t had the opportunity to scrimmage, and I think just about every other team has. We have a ton of new faces, we’ve got three returning guys, so everything is brand new to so many people. So we will take the win.”
Due to COVID-19, the arena wasn’t bustling with fans excited to witness the Raiders tip-off their season. Instead, as the teams began to warm up, surrounded by a handful of empty folding chairs, the music playing over the PA was the only sound cutting through the echo of basketballs hitting the hardwood. However, once the starting lineups were announced, the energy that was missing from the building suddenly turned on its head. Creating a palpable tension as the first half began.
MCC jumped out to an early 8-0 lead on the Raiders, and that was all it took to wake up their powerful offensive unit. Sophomore shooting-guard Darien Banks made the first basket for the Raiders, draining a 3-point shot from the right wing after a Jayhawk missed shot.
Muskegon held the slightest lead throughout the first 12 minutes of the game until sophomore point-guard Richard Major hit a 3-point shot to tie the game at 17-17. MCC took the lead right back, but relinquished it to the Raiders on the next possession and they began to build a lead of their own.
The Raider lead grew to 11 points in the final seconds of the first half, as Banks and forward Malik Clincy, a sophomore transfer from Aquinas College and former Michigan Community College Athletic Association Freshman of the Year in 2017, lit the Jayhawk defense up from behind the 3-point line. This offensive display put the Raiders up 36-26 as they headed to the locker room at halftime.
As the second half got underway, the teams traded quick baskets. Then the GRCC defense stepped up, allowing their lead to grow to 14 points.
MCC wasn’t ready to hand the Raiders the win though, as they began an offensive onslaught of their own from the 3-point line, led by sophomore guard Christian Simmons. The Jayhawks were whittling away at the GRCC lead, reducing it to a 1-point Raider advantage, when their momentum was halted by a technical foul on MCC guard Julian Walker. This sent Banks of the Raiders to the free-throw line for two shots, which he made both of.
The contest remained close throughout the next 10 minutes of the second half as GRCC’s lead never reached more than four points. Then in the blink of an eye, things changed. When, sophomore forward, Chandler Collins stepped up on both ends of the floor. After grabbing an offensive rebound, which he put back up to give the Raiders a 5-point advantage.
On the next possession, as MCC drove to the basket Collins came up with a clutch block at the rim. MCC regained possession but rushed a 3-point shot that the Raiders gathered, and Clincy took off on the fast break passing the ball ahead to Banks, who made an easy layup putting the team up 70-63, forcing the Jayhawks to call a timeout.
However, the timeout didn’t slow the Raiders momentum, as Banks didn’t let up his dominance on the offensive end. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Raiders held on to the ball, securing the 85-73 victory and their first win of the season. Knocking off the eighth-ranked team in Division II, per the National Junior College Athletic Associations latest poll.
“Today we didn’t get down on each other,” said Clincy. “I think this was a big stepping stone. Beating the number eight team in the country, that’s huge.”
The Raiders were led offensively by Banks, who led all scorers in the contest and finished the game with 29 points and 7 rebounds. Although he just barely missed his career-high in scoring(31), by 2 points. After the long break from competition, Banks was happy to show the effort he put in during the time away.
“It feels refreshing,” said Banks. “I knew I put in the work in the off-season, and I know I’ve been working hard. So it’s kind of refreshing that it paid off.”
Bauer’s squad also received contributions from Clincy (15 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists), sophomore Issac Anderson (11 points and 8 rebounds), freshman forward Azyah Brown (5 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks) and Major (9 points and 4 rebounds).
For Clincy, this was his first game in a Raider uniform. While he felt there were things he could improve on after his performance, Clincy enjoyed his first game as a Raider.
“I had too many missed free throws, a lot of missed free throws,” said Clincy. “But I think I made up for it on the boards and playing pretty sound defense. It was a lot of fun, getting back playing with the guys and actually playing with some of the dudes that we don’t usually get to practice with either.”
Sophomore forward Jeff Sultzer led the Jayhawks with 20 points, five rebounds, and two blocks. MCC also received contributions from Simmons (19 points and 3 steals) and freshman Jackob Martinson (11 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks).
Though the Raiders ended up with the win, they had to battle the MCC bench’s onslaught of trash talk and turnovers that plagued GRCC, who finished the game with 21 total. Bauer’s message of unity was personified by Major. Who kept the squad centered and allowed them to push through everything MCC threw in their path.
“Coach Bauer does a good job preaching, stay together and stay as one, and we did that as a team,” said Clincy. “Rich, our point guard, is our leader and he keeps us going and keeps us together.”
Banks personally overcame the noise by using lessons from his childhood to help keep himself in the right frame of mind.
“Remembering what my parents told me, ‘they gon talk, but talk back with your game,’” said Banks. “So that’s what I kept in my head and that’s what I did.”
Next, the Raiders will head to Plymouth, Indiana to face the 3-0 Chargers of Ancilla College on Tuesday, Feb. 23, with the opening tip scheduled for 7:30 p.m., with a livestream being broadcast on the Ancilla College Youtube channel.
“It’s gonna be tough,” said Bauer. “Muskegon is a very good program, they’re ranked, and they were obviously tremendous last year. Just the culture of being good, sometimes you lose good players like they did, but the culture just bleeds over. Ancilla is the same way. We’re going down there to the sports-plex, it’s kinda like a YMCA, a bit of a tough feel there, and they’re good.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 3:31 a.m. on Feb. 21 to correct the spelling of Azyah Brown’s first name.