By Sean Chase
The Grand Rapids Community College men’s basketball team faced off against the nationally-ranked Pioneers of Delta College on Wednesday, March 10, which they won, 74-62. They are now 4-2 on the season.
“We played really well as a team and we finally came together and competed like we should,” said Richard Major, a sophomore guard and leader on the GRCC men’s basketball team. “Had we been doing that the whole year, we wouldn’t have no losses.”
Going into Wednesday’s game, GRCC was looking to maintain their 2-0 record at home. As well as being the first time the Raiders’ players were able to play in front of their family, after the Ford Fieldhouse welcomed back limited fans on March 9.
Due to these changes as the teams warmed up prior to the opening tip-off, the familiar smacking of the basketball on the hardwood and the rattling of rims was drowned out by the murmuring of the crowd. Once the flow of family members being escorted to the section of blue tape amidst the bleachers stopped, it felt as if the roof was ready to pop-off the Gordon Hunsberger Arena in anticipation.
“Just hearing fans talk while you’re shooting free throws, you miss stuff like that,” said Malik Clincy, a sophomore forward and leading scorer this season for the Raiders. “Then just looking out, I had my god-brother in the stands, and just seeing other people in there get hype… it’s not just us on our team screaming for each other. It was dope.”
For many fans this was the first event they have been able to attend since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped America last year, and they brought an energy with them that had been lacking this year.
Once the game tipped-off, The Raiders turned this excitement into intensity on defense and in result, an early lead. After Clincy scored the first basket of the game finishing a lay-up through contact, and sophomore Chandler Collins corralled a shot off the rim and quickly laid it back in for the score, GRCC was up 4-0 through the first three-minutes of the contest.
Delta rallied back into the contest, as five-minutes had gone by in the half to take a one-point lead, 8-7. However, the Raiders responded to the Pioneer onslaught with a run of their own, caused by incredible intensity on the defensive end from sophomore Isaac Anderson. This frustrated the Pioneer offense, as the Raider lead grew to 10 points, 18-8.
“Seeing my whole team out there, playing good hard defense, just going hard on the defense the whole game, that’s what turned the game around… stops,” said Anderson, after the game.
Just as it looked like GRCC was going to run away with the game, Delta’s shots started to fall and they were able to reduce the Raider lead to one-point once again, 32-31 as the buzzer signifying halftime sounded.
Once the teams returned to the court, Clincy made his presence in the game felt, after having to serve a one-game suspension against Glen Oaks Community College on Friday, March 5, for receiving two technical fouls against Mott Community College on Wednesday, March 3. He quickly hit two 3-point shots to open the scoring in the second half and give GRCC a seven-point lead.
The teams traded baskets for the next couple minutes, then Anderson’s defensive effort paid off for GRCC, resulting in a steal and quick bucket on the other end by sophomore D’Avery Moore that caused the crowd to erupt and pushed the Raider lead to 11, 50-39. From then on the Raider defense was locked in.
What was once a close game, turned into a blow-out as the Raider lead eventually would grow to 17 points, before Delta was able to find their footing on offense in the second half. However as the Pioneers looked like they were gaining momentum, Collins came up with a huge block for GRCC putting a halt to the comeback. Clincy followed that up with a tremendous block of his own, as the final seconds of the game expired, with GRCC ahead 74-62.
“(Collins’) gotta be a pillar for us,” said Jeff Bauer, head coach for the GRCC men’s basketball team. “While we’ve been in our shooting slump, we’ve tried to just throw it downstairs and play smash-mouth and he’s our best smash-mouth guy, so he’s huge right now.”
On Wednesday, Collins’ impact and the Raider’s focus on success in the paint through rebounding and sound defense was a key factor to the game. As GRCC out scored the Pioneers in the paint, 34-14, and out rebounded them as a whole, 38-28, resulting in 11 second chance points for the Raiders.
“I thought we defended really well,”said Bauer. “They got two guys who can flat-out light it up. Kevin Rice is averaging 30 (points per game) and Jackarus Smith, he’s averaging 30 (points per game). Well, we held them to a combined 34, that’s less than 60, so I think that’s pretty good. I think defensively we’re starting to get a team identity. We played Glen Oaks and held them to 45, so I think we’re getting there. We’re starting to believe in ourselves.”
Clincy led all scorers in the contest with 31 points (1 shy of his career high 32), shooting 5-for-9 from beyond the 3-point line. He also had seven rebounds, three blocks and two steals to help secure the GRCC win.
“I just wanted to do whatever for us to win,” Clincy said, after the game to The Collegiate. “I could give two shits if I woulda had two points and we won, that don’t bother me. But being a big part of it helped a little bit, made me feel good knowing that the work I’ve been putting in outside of this and at practice is paying off. I work on my jump-shot every day, and I haven’t been shooting good all year. To finally shoot good felt good.”
The Raiders also received contributions from Anderson, who recorded his second consecutive double-double on the season (15 points, 19 rebounds, three assists and three steals), Collins (six rebounds, two points, two blocks and one steal), Moore (nine points and three rebounds), freshman Azyah Brown (six points, five rebounds and two blocks), sophomore Darien Banks (three points, three rebounds and one assist), freshman Dasani Darnell (three points and five rebounds) and Major (five points, two assists, two steals and one rebound).
The Pioneers, who were ranked 20 in the most recent National Junior College Athletic Association Division II poll, were led in scoring by freshman Kevin Rice, who had 21 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals. The Pioneers also received contributions from sophomore Justin Fox (19 points, six assists and three rebounds), sophomore Jackarus Smith (13 points, six rebounds and three steals) and sophomore Jeremiah Tarver (13 rebounds, four points and three blocks).
Next the Raiders will welcome Ancilla College to Grand Rapids on Friday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m. The last time these teams faced each other in Indiana, the Chargers were able to secure a 16-point victory over the Raiders on Feb. 23. Currently the games aren’t open to the general public, so to catch the game live check out the GRCC Athletics Youtube page.
“Because they’re in Indiana they had a couple advantages, they had already played three or four games before our game, and that was our second game, and I’m assuming that they were able to practice prior to the January deadline,” said Bauer. “I thought last game, down there, we did a pretty good job. We did a lot of good things, and when it got tough, they were tougher around the rim.They beat us rebounding and that’s kind of where they iced the game. So it’s gonna be a battle.”
Deeper into the season, it’s a battle Clincy believes the Raiders are prepared to win.
“We’re going to be ready to go,” said Clincy. “We’re six games in now, we aren’t two games in. It’s not the same GRCC that they played two weeks ago. We’re a lot better, we play defense. So it’s going to be a lot better.”