BY CHAD DARE
Sometimes the desire to do something is enough to get it done.
That was the case on Thursday afternoon as the Howard Community College Dragons extended their stay at the NJCAA Division II National Tournament with a 85-72 win over the Grand Rapids Community College Raiders at the Mary Miller Complex on the campus of Danville Area Community College.
“Our goal was to play good defense and get the win,’’ said Howard freshman guard Alie Kondeh, who had a game-high 25 points. “We want to keep playing. We didn’t want to go home.
“This is our first time here, and even though we plan on being back here next year – we weren’t ready to go home.’’
The Dragons (17-13) definitely looked like a team wanting to play a few more games in Danville as they scored 11 of the game’s first 13 points, and then Howard opened up a 23-10 lead when reserve James Peters hit back-to-back 3-pointers.
“Our shots were falling today. James Peters shot the lights out in the first half,’’ said Howard coach Mike Smelkinson as Peters came off the bench to 21 points, 14 of those in the first half. “I told the guys against Monroe (in the first round), it wasn’t a defensive thing, it wasn’t a rebounding thing, and it wasn’t an effort thing.
“It’s having confidence in your shot, and having confidence in our offense. I think we played with more confidence offensively and we made shots.’’
Howard shot 50 percent from the field (32-of-64) in the contest, just one day after making just 30 percent of its shots in a 62-56 loss to the second-seeded Monroe Tribunes.
“I thought they shot the ball well. They were hot, and our communication on defense wasn’t very good,’’ Grand Rapids coach T.J. Carnegie said. “I thought in the first half, they had more energy than we did.
“In this game, the team that is more desperate and the one that has the most energy comes out on top. They were quicker to the ball, quicker to the rim and quicker up and down the floor,’’
Howard ended the first half on a 13-1 run to take a 47-28 lead at halftime, but Grand Rapids (21-10) battled back, getting within four (57-53) with 12 minutes, 7 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Devin Longoria, who finished with 10 points.
But that was as close as the Raiders would get. The Dragons rebuilt their double-digit lead with a 12-2 run.
“We just dug too big of a hole in the first half,’’ Carnegie said. “I was disappointed at halftime, but I was proud of their effort in the second half. You have to put 40 minutes together and we weren’t able to do that tonight.’’
The victory for Howard was another historic victory for the Dragons, who are making their first-ever appearance at the NJCAA Division II National Tournament. Howard has previous played in the NJCAA Division III National Tournament in 1993.
“This is the first time in 20 years that any Howard men’s basketball program made it to nationals,’’ Kondeh said. “We had jitters from the beginning. But, once we got the hang of everything, it felt like a regular game.’’
Not only did the Dragons extend their stay in Danville, but they also get a shot at redemption.
“We played Louisburg early in the season at their place, and we wanted to get another shot at them to see what happens,’’ Smelkinson said.
Louisburg, who won 87-56 on Nov. 9, will play Howard again in the consolation semifinals at 1 p.m. today.
Alex Mustert had a double-double for Grand Rapids with 23 points and 13 rebounds.