A 23-point second-half explosion by sophomore guard Grant Johnson delivers a 76-68 Parkside victory as the clutch-shooting transfer caps it off with a thunderous dunk.
Showcasing the opening round of the men’s basketball Ranger Slam Dunk Diabetes Classic, UW-Parkside (2-3) hosted last season’s NCCAA Division II national champion Grace Bible College (7-4) Friday night. This non-conference bout at DeSimone Gymnasium in Kenosha, WI marked the end to Parkside’s two-game losing skid.
UWP once again entered action shorthanded for their fifth straight game as Craig Cunningham (hamstring) and Jamere Dismukes (personal leave of absence) both were unavailable. In addition, freshmen Steve Jaskulske and Kevin Senechalle both played through injury.
“With so many guys out we knew it would be a struggle against a team that could shoot the basketball,” said Parkside head coach Luke Reigel, “our guys got a little tentative but they never panicked and I’m pleased at how such a young team showed so much poise.”
Featuring three freshman in the starting lineup (Jeremy Saffold, Ryan Callozzo, and Senechalle), Parkside plagued themselves early with poor decision-making.
Grace vaulted out to a 12-0 commanding lead by capitalizing off 0-of-6 shooting to start action for the Rangers.
Courtesy of sharp-shooting from Johnson and sophomore Sam Katula, the home squad closed the gap outscoring the Tigers in the final 13 minutes of the first half. In that time period, UWP posted a 75 percent (6-of-8) clip from behind the arc.
Katula highlighted the run by burying a 23-footer with less than a minute left. Providing a spark off the bench, the guard had nine at the break and 12 on the night courtesy of 4-of-4 from downtown.
“We accomplished our goal of getting post touches and using that to get open looks for the perimeter shooters,” said an excited Katula, who also chipped in three assists. “It paid off in a big way.”
After a horrendous start, the Rangers found themselves trailing just 29-35 through the first 20 minutes.
Increased success defensively made transition points plentiful as Johnson dialed from long-distance twice lifting off the Rangers to an 11-0 run and their first lead to start the second half.
Despite efficient jump shooting, Parkside struggled through the first three quarters in low-post scoring as not one front-court player achieved double-digit points. For the game, their interior presence managed only 18 points as junior forward Zach Blesich claimed nine of those to go along with six rebounds.
Grace low-post forward Allen Durham muscled out 23 points alone and also pulled down five boards.
To Parkside’s credit, the final five minutes of regulation consisted of that same front-court coming to life by both scoring points in the paint and forcing turnovers defensively.
After a three-point play late by Durham that cut the deficit to three, Johnson answered as Mr. Clutch drained a jumper from the right wing to reclaim a five-point advantage.
The Rangers then closed out the game in style as a turnover by Grace’s Paul Nelson led to Johnson’s jam on the other end with 18 seconds remaining to put an exclamation mark on a crucial comeback.
“We came out with no energy in the first half and I knew we needed to make something happen,” assured Johnson, who totaled 28 points and six assists. “Once we started moving the ball better and stepping up offensively, the shots started dropping.”
Senechalle finished the night with a respectable seven points and five rebounds. Callozzo facilitated Parkside’s offense contributing ten points and three assists.
UWP returns to DeSimone Gymasium Saturday afternoon for a 5:00 pm tip-off. Hosting Bemidji State, this non-conference match-up will mark their second game of the tournament.
“Grant is a kid who’s going to be a great player at our level,” said Reigel. “He’s a play-maker, and that kind of effort just makes it easier to win games.”