After suffering their first defeat in their last four contests Thursday against Pearl River, the Southwest Mississippi Community College men came out swinging in the first half of Monday’s home game against East Central and never let up, rolling past the Warriors, 84-68.
Every active player on the Bears’ roster registered a point in the win, including Spencer Rodgers, who had a team-high 18, and Damian Dear, who poured in 14.
“Unselfish play was one of the main keys for the game,” SMCC head coach Bryan Bender said. “We shared the ball, a lot of guys got opportunities and it was great to see. It is always good to get a win, especially on your home court.”
While Rodgers and Dear finished as the leading scorers, it was South Pike graduate Jaylon Andrews who helped the Bears (10-6, 4-3) get off to a strong start, setting the tone early.
Andrews posted six of SMCC’s first 11 points in the contest including a put-back dunk early on, firing up the sophomore, his teammates and the Bears fans in attendance.
Even though SMCC was riding a wave of momentum on offense, the defense showed a few flaws, allowing the Warriors (6-10, 1-6) to climb back into the ball game, pulling within three at 15-12 about a third of the way through the first half.
It was answered, however, with a 14-0 Bear run which was sparked by a pair of inside baskets from Drelon Pittman. He was one of five different Bears to score during the streak. When the dust settled, SMCC found itself up 29-12.
Devin Evans got into the act moments later with a highlight dunk as he was on the receiving end of an alley-oop. Andrews added a slam of his own shortly afterward which kicked off a back-and-forth battle between the two teams, who traded scores for the remainder of the half.
SMCC led 51-32 at halftime.
Ten of Andrews’ 12 points came in the first half. He credits his fast start with the game plan put in place by Coach Bender and his staff.
“Coaches told us that we had three keys to the game: owning the glass, playing unselfish and containing their shooters,” he said. “We did that and our defense turned into offense.”
Another strong start in the second half pushed SMCC even further away from East Central. The Bears went on a 10-2 run, increasing their lead to 63-34. But the Warriors answered with a 12-0 run of their own to make the score 63-46.
Despite getting their offense back in order, the Warriors could not get enough to get back into the contest.
SMCC kept imposing its will on offense as Rodgers began to heat up from 3-point range with a pair of makes from beyond the arc.
Down the stretch, East Central could not slow down SMCC who continued to put the ball through the hoop before walking away with the convincing home win.
“This is a very big win,” Andrews said. “We are over .500 going into the turn and we now have another chance at Hinds. We are a totally different team than in December when we first played them.”