By Sean Chase
On Tuesday, March 16, the Grand Rapids Community College men’s basketball team headed to Port Huron, to face nationally-ranked St. Clair County Community College, losing 79-66. Their record is now 4-4 on the season.
After losing to Ancilla on Friday, March 12, the Raiders looked to bounce back against the Skippers, who are ranked 12th in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association Division II rankings. However, with sophomore forward Malik Clincy out due to academic issues, the team’s leading scorer averaging 18 points per game, toppling another ranked team was going to be a tough task.
GRCC sophomore Aaron Tomlinson stepped into the starting lineup in place of Clincy, and after the Raiders won the opening tip, he opened the scoring by draining a 3-pointer from the wing. St. Clair quickly answered by going on an 11-point run to take a commanding, 11-3, lead in the opening minutes of the first half.
“We didn’t do a good job on the scouting report early, and I thought our energy was just kinda down and low,” said Jeff Bauer, head coach of the GRCC men’s basketball team. “They had two really good shooters and we just let them get shots.”
The shots continued to fall for the Skippers in the first half, with the team shooting 6 for 13 from behind the 3-point line, as the Raiders fell further behind. However, with 4:45 left in the half, freshman Azyah Brown came to life scoring three-straight baskets and sparking a rally from GRCC.
“(Brown’s) becoming a force, with more confidence,” Bauer said. “He’s learning angles in the post, how to seal and finish strong, so he did a good job. I’m happy with his performance.”
Brown’s efforts combined with sophomore Isaac Anderson’s intensity on defense, who is ranked third in the NJCAA for rebounds per game, with 13.4, wasn’t enough to swing the game back in favor of the Raiders, as the Skippers went into halftime up, 48-33.
“I feel like we got out to a slow start in the first half,” Anderson said. “We came out with low energy, but in the second half I feel like we came back ready.”
The second half scoring opened in favor of GRCC, as Anderson shook off a St. Clair defender with a crossover and drove to the rim for an easy layup. The Skippers responded in kind, scoring six straight points and growing their lead to 22 points, 57-35.
Down big, sophomores Chandler Collins and Richard Major stepped up for the Raiders on defense. Collins drained a mid-range jumper, after grabbing a defensive rebound. On the next possession, Major grabbed the rebound, pushed the ball up the court and dished it to Anderson for a wide-open layup. GRCC then rattled off 16 straight points to cut the St. Clair lead to two points, as freshman Brockton Kohler saw his first major playing time of the season.
However, just as it seemed the St. Clair offensive attack had fallen asleep for the night, they responded with another barrage of 3-point shots, that the momentum GRCC had garnered from the run could not withstand. When the final buzzer sounded, the Skippers had pushed their lead back to 13 points, winning 79-66.
Anderson led all scorers in the contest, with 27 points, as well as grabbing 14 rebounds and recording four assists, securing his fourth double-double in a row as a Raider. GRCC also received contributions from Collins (15 points, nine rebounds and one assist), Brown (11 points, eight rebounds and two assists), Kohler (eight points, two rebounds and one assist), Tomlinson (three points and one rebound) and sophomore D’Avery Moore (two points).
The Skippers were led by sophomore Omari Duncan (20 points, nine rebounds and three assists). St. Clair also received contributions from sophomore Riley Bugg (14 points, two rebounds and one assist), sophomore Christopher Ballard (12 points, six rebounds and two assists) and sophomore Emmanuel Ndambi (seven points, eight rebounds and four assists).
After the game, Bauer mentioned how important Collins was for the Raiders against the Skippers on Tuesday, March 16.
“He was more focused,” Bauer said. “He felt without Malik being there, he had to step up and he did. (He) had some good, strong finishes around the rim, played pretty good help defense for us and did a good job on the glass.”
Next, GRCC will head back home to the Gordon Hunsberger Arena, on Saturday, March 20, to face the Monarchs of Macomb Community College at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s a big game,” Anderson said. “We gotta get back in the win column. We’ve dropped two-straight games for the first time this season, and it’s a feeling nobody on this team likes. So we’re going to come into that game ready to go.”
The Ford Fieldhouse is currently only allowing limited numbers of fans to attend, so to catch a livestream of the game go to the GRCC Athletics Youtube channel.