On Jan. 7, as Tacoma college basketball fans filled the bleachers at Pierce College’s Health Education Center, the atmosphere was electric with the intensity of playing the cross-town rival Tacoma Community College Titans (8-3 overall, 1-0 conference). The heated competition was evident right from tip-off. The Titans’ athleticism, aggressive defense and contagious swagger was apparent from the get-go of their regular season opener in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community College West Division, as they stunned the Pierce College Raiders (9-4 overall, 1-1 conference) 79-62.
The Titans delivered a swift and lethal punch in the first six minutes of the first half – running and gunning to quickly silence the Raiders Roost fans with a 17-2 run.
Raiders head coach Bill Mendelson was beside himself with frustration and acquired a technical foul, but a short time later, he took a needed timeout to regroup his despondent team. The timeout and strategy were just the ticket, reviving the Raiders to a beating pulse in the game. That pulse would come from freshman guard John Palmer – who led the team with 18 points – rattling off seven points and capping it with two free throws in a quick two-minute duration. The 15-4 run by the Raiders put them within striking distance and cut the deficit to 21-17.
With the home fans finally back in the game and making some noise, the Titans responded quickly, delivering an aggressive defense and clutch offense from freshman guard Damani Coley, who converted two highly attested three-pointers. Adding to the arsenal was Titans freshman Josh Lord, who drained a three-pointer of his own late in the half to keep the Raiders in check. The Raiders went to the locker room at the half going 7-of-36 from the field, 2-of-10 from the arc and 3-of-3 from the free throw line.
In the second half the Raiders came out fired up, executing plays and tightening up on defense. The Titans responded to the challenge and took the game over, throwing backdoor alley-oops and fast break dunks coupled with lightning-speed defensive reactions and a focus on play-making detail. Giving the most grief for Raiders, both offensively and defensively, was Titans returning forward Mark McLaughlin, who scored a game-high 21 points. The Raiders ended the game going 22-of-76 from the field, good for only 29 percent.
“We haven’t faced this kind of defense the whole year. It was really good for us, even though it was a loss. This game shows us that we are not where we are supposed to be,” Mendelson said. “Tacoma is just good. They have a great player at every position. Each guy just needs to step up and do a little better. We did execute better in the second half though. You just can’t get down when playing them because they are just going to put the pressure on, and they did.”
“I think we were unprepared mentally for this game. Their length and their intensity got to me and the rest of the players,” Palmer said. “I think we came out in the first half scared, to be honest with you. It just wasn’t what we were expecting. It is just hard to run with a team that has just so much more athleticism than you do. We just tried to slow it down. We take from this game that we need to work more on defense and conditioning.”
“Tonight, it was important that we guarded the three-point line and didn’t allow any penetration,” stated Titans head coach Carl Howell. “I thought we really did that tonight. When we were up at the half, I told my guys that no one is quitting in college basketball in the second half, and every team will have their run. I was really just telling them to keep their composure. This team is not as far along as we should be because of injuries, but I think we are really coming along.”
“Coming into this game tonight, I was just thinking we had to come ready and keep that 22-game winning streak in league going for coach Howell,” McLaughlin said. “Coach Howell has been really honest about our defensive rotation and just staying strong and consistent all through the game defensively and offensively. We were very well-prepared for this game. We ran their sets three times this week, so we were ready for this game. We are just going to keep working hard, keep positive and work as a family as we continue through the season.”
To listen to online and archived broadcasts of all Raiders home games, visit http://www.daveandmikeshow.com/pierce-college-mens-basketball.html. Pregame show starts at 6:30 p.m.