AUSTIN -- Brian LaPlante’s defensive gameplan was simple. The veteran Rochester Community and Technical College coach wanted to take away Riverland Community College’s high-scoring duo of Terrell Smith and Montrell Jacobs. The duo averaged over 37 points per night.
For the first 12 minutes of the first half, RCTC did exactly what they were asked. RCTC sophomore Antonio Maddox was draped all over Smith, while the rest of the Yellowjackets keyed in on Jacobs.
Smith and Jacobs were scoreless for the first 12 minutes of the first half which allowed RCTC to build up a 25-15 lead thanks to the silky-smooth play of Kong Kong (15 first half points) and the relentless drives from point guard Mickey Jah.
Then, Smith and Jacobs woke up.
The duo scored 17 of Riverland's’s final 22 points of the first half. The 22-8 run gave Riverland a 37-33 lead at the half. They used that momentum to pull away for a 93-83 victory Wednesday.
RCTC dropped to 12-4 overall and 1-2 in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference. Riverland improved to 15-1 and 3-0 in conference play.
Here are five takeaways from the game.
1. No shame for RCTC after hard-fought road loss
Riverland won the Minnesota College Athletic Conference last year, and they’re the favorites to repeat yet again in 2020. At 15-1, they’re truly one of the best junior college programs not only in the area but even in the state.
So, LaPlante’s squad shouldn’t be devastated after losing by 10 to Riverland on the road. Sure, there will be some disappointment after blowing a double-digit, first-half lead. But it’s pretty clear that Riverland has all the pieces to make some serious noise down the stretch.
RCTC did plenty of good things Wednesday night. They played terrific defense throughout most of the first half. They showcased that they have a legitimate star in Kong. They did whatever they wanted offensively and finished shooting 44 percent from the field.
Those are all rock-solid things that LaPlante and the rest of the RCTC program can build on moving forward.
“We’re 12-4,” LePlante said. “We’ve got a good team. We have to go through the process and the ups and downs and get better.”
2. 3-point shooting woes spell trouble
Entering play on Wednesday, RCTC was shooting just 26 percent as a team from behind the arc. They were 5-for-22 (23 percent) in the loss to Riverland. That’s just not good enough.
Riverland repeatedly allowed RCTC to fire away from long range, and RCTC couldn’t convert. Karmoga Lero was truly the only threat from downtown. Lero knocked down 2-of-5 3-pointers, but no one else made more than one. Maddox was just 1-for-8. Jah was 1-for-4. Kong was 1-for-3.
Riverland drained nine triples compared to RCTC’s five. Those 12 points were the difference in the game. RCTC shot a ridiculous 52 percent on 2-pointers. Kong was able to get it going inside. No Riverland defender could stay in front of Jah. Ray Adams scored all 14 of his points thanks to hard drives to the cup.
There would be even more room to operate inside if RCTC could get some consistent outside shooting. Kong is certainly capable. Lero has proved that he can stretch the floor.
But the 3-point shooting from starting backcourt of Jah, Adams and Maddox isn't getting it done. Jah is shooting just 25 percent from downtown. Adams is even worse at 23.5 percent. Maddox is just 16-for-64 (25 percent) this season.
Despite the woeful shooting performance from 3-point land, RCTC still managed to put up 83 points against Riverland. If the 3s start falling, then RCTC could become a petrifying team to play down the home stretch.
3. Riverland’s size too much to overcome
Riverland had the best two players on the floor in Jacobs and Smith. The high-scoring duo combined for 38 against RCTC.
But RCTC’s lack of size was the main reason Riverland was able to impose their will. Riverland out-rebounded RCTC 53-39. They ripped down 17 offensive rebounds which they turned into 14 second-chance points.
Plus, Riverland was able to get to the charity stripe 26 times. They shot 22-for-26 from the line, while RCTC was just 10-for-16. That 12-point difference was certainly
Riverland was able to put Nyagoa Obany (6-foot-7), Keanan Butler (6-foot-6) and Ibrahim Mohammad (6-foot-7) on the floor. Two of the three usually were in the game together. Plus, Jacobs is a strong 6-foot-4 guard who was a factor on the glass, ripping down nine rebounds, including five offensive rebounds.
Kong was truly the only RCTC player who could match up with Riverland’s imposing front court. Kong finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
6-foot-5 Minneapolis freshman Devin Melzer earned his second start of the season, but he was a non-factor. Melzer got stuffed in the early-going by Mohammad, and that really knocked him out of his comfort zone. Melzer finished with just two points in 13 minutes.
Kong cannot be the only viable front court weapon that LaPlante can count on moving forward. He might have to lean on freshman Jerome Cunningham even more. Cunningham came in averaging 8.4 points per game in 15 minutes a night. He finished with six points and five rebounds in 14 minutes against Riverland despite giving up several inches inside.
Despite being undersized, RCTC scrapped and fought. But it just wasn’t enough.
“(I learned) that they fight,” LaPlante said. “Sometimes that’s as big as anything. They fought. It also showed that we need to grow in some areas that every team does. Until you’re in wars like this… In practice and in film, we talk about, ‘Hey you have to do this.’ Sometimes you just have to go through it. Sometimes you have to fail and then you figure out some things.”
4. LaPlante aging like fine wine
LaPlante is good at this coaching thing. He showcased his excellence again on Wednesday. Even in a loss, LaPlante was excellent. His plays after timeouts were terrific. After Riverland blitzed RCTC with a 13-6 run early in the second half, LaPlante called timeout.
He dialed up a beautiful pin down to get Lero an open look from downtown. Splash.
Then, he trusted Cunningham by running two consecutive plays for his freshman forward. Cunningham rewarded his head coach with a floater after collecting an offensive rebound and another layup to cut the deficit to two. That quick 7-0 spurt kept RCTC in the game and forced Riverland to call a timeout.
“Overall, every time they went on a run, we answered,” LaPlante said. “That’s a good sign on the road. We have to clean up some things.”
LaPlante’s baseline out of bounds plays were also superb. RCTC scored numerous times off of great looks inside. LaPlante might not have pulled off the victory on Wednesday, but he orchestrated his team wisely and carefully. He put his team in position to win late. This will be LaPlante’s 24th year at the helm of RCTC. He might just stick around for another 24 years too.
5. Defense flashes encouraging signs
It’s rare that a coaching staff can be encouraged after giving up 93 points in a game. But the RCTC defense was stifling for most of the first half.
Smith was held scoreless for the first 12 minutes of the game, which helped RCTC build up a 25-15 lead. Eventually, the Riverland star was able to get going, but the full-court RCTC defense really slowed him down at the start and baited Smith into some really long 3-pointers that he bricked.
Smith was shooting nearly 40 percent from 3-point land entering Wednesday, but he finished just 2-for-9 from long range. A lot of credit has to be given to Maddox who was stuck to Smith like a chicken on a June bug.
RCTC has all the pieces to be a strong defensive team. Maddox is a bulldog out on the perimeter. It’s hard to get past the lightning-quick Jah. Then, Kong’s length is a game-changer at the rim. Kong finished with a team-high three blocks against Riverland.
“Proud of our kids,” LaPlante said. “We played hard. Riverland hit tough shots. Smith hit some tough shots. Overall, every time they went on a run, we answered. That’s a good sign on the road.”
Riverland 93, RCTC 83
Antonio Maddox 10 points, 1 assist, 1 3-PT; Mickey Jah 20 points, 6 rebounds, 1 3-PT; Kong Kong 19 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, 1 3-PT; Jerome Cunningham 6 points, 5 rebounds; Karmogo Lero 8 points, 2 3-PT, 2 rebounds; Keonte Williams 4 points; Ray Adams 14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists; Devin Melzer 2 points, 1 rebound
Eddie Oyet 4 points, 2 rebounds; Montrell Jacobs 18 points, 9 rebounds, 3 3-PT; Deandre Anderson 18 points, 5 rebounds, 2 3-PT; Tate Hebrink 5 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists; Terrell Smith 20 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, 2 3-PT; Nyagoa Obany 10 points, 10 rebounds; Ibrahim Mohammad 8 points, 6 rebounds; Keanan Butler 10 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 3-PT
Halftime: Riverland 37, RCTC 33
Free throws: Riverland 22-26, RCTC 10-16
Three-point goals: Riverland 9, RCTC 5