Griffons fall in first two MIAA games

Zach Papenberg
[caption id="attachment_26267" align="alignnone" width="200"]Zach Papenberg Griffon guard Trey Sampson[/caption] After falling to the No. 12 Central Missouri Mules on Thursday, the Griffons increased their losing streak to four games with a loss to the Southwest Baptist Bearcats on Saturday. Western kept the game close through the beginning of the first half, tying the score at 21. They could not take the lead while SW Baptist went on a 12-1 run to take a 33-22 lead towards the end of the half. The Griffons fought to erase the double-digit lead, but found themselves down by twelve with a Bearcat lead of 41-29. It seemed as though Western would go into halftime with a double-digit deficit, but guard Trey Sampson drained a last second three-pointer to pull within nine points with a 41-32 score. In the second half, the Griffons continued to chip away at the Bearcats’ lead, as they piled on an 11-6 run to pull within three points by a score of 47-44. Western kept battling, dropping SW Baptist’s lead to only one point multiple times by scores of 48-49, 51-50 and 69-68 before tying the game at 69 late in the half thanks to a made free throw by forward Currie Byrd. They briefly took a one-point, 70-69 lead off of a free throw from guard Miles Wentzien, but the Bearcats took a four-point 77-73 lead with 13 seconds left in the game. Guard Cole Clearman fired a three-pointer with nine seconds left to bring the score to 77-76, but SW Baptist held off the comeback and handed Western a 79-76 defeat. Head coach Brett Weiberg knew that it would be a tough game, but he also felt that this is a game they should have won. “We knew that it would be a competitive game and that, if we played well and competed the right way, we’d still have an opportunity to win and in some ways we felt like we should win,” Weiberg said. Although the Griffons lost, they had three players score in double-digits, led by Sampson with 17, Byrd with 11 and forward Kevin Thomas with 10. Thomas was also close to a double-double with a team high eight rebound. Thursday, Western traveled to Warrensburg, Missouri to face the No. 12 Central Missouri Mules and struggled to get their offense defense on track. The Mules opened the first half on fire, leading the Griffons 29-4. Western finally found an offensive and defensive footing, going on a 12-2 run and cutting the lead down to 15 with a 31-16 score. The Griffons could not gain any more ground before halftime and headed to the locker room down 20 with a 44-24 score. The blowout first half came from a combination of the high-level of performance from the Mules and the low-level from the Griffons, according to Weiberg. “Central Missouri played probably about as good as they could play in the first 10 to 12 minutes of the game and we played pretty bad,” Weiberg said. “Kind of the perfect storm of one team playing well and one team not playing well.” Western still had trouble holding Central Missouri in the second half. The Griffons struggled to decrease the deficit, managing to only bring it down to 15 with 13 minutes left in the half. Central Missouri increased their lead again, but Western brought it back down to 15 before losing the game 74-59. Even though Western lost, Weiberg believes that they should have had a chance to win, but took that chance away from themselves. “Central Missouri is a good team, they’re going to win some games, [but] I don’t think Central Missouri is a great team,” Weiberg said. “They have their weaknesses, so going in their we felt like if we played decent we’d have a chance and, obviously, we didn’t give ourselves a chance.” Despite the loss, four Griffons scored in double-digits, led by both Thomas and guard Aaron Emmanuel with 12 points, Sampson with 11 and forward Xavier Newson with 10. Emmanuel also recorded his second double-double of the season, racking up a team high 13 rebounds. Both losses dropped Western’s overall record to 2-6, their conference record to 0-2 and increased their losing streak to four games. Currently, the Griffons sit at No. 13 in the conference, above only Northeastern State, who is 0-2 in the MIAA and 1-5 overall. Western will face the Pittsburg State Gorillas in their first home conference game on Thursday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m.

Griffon split games in Hillyard Tip-Off Classic

The season is underway, as the Griffons went 1-1 in the Hillyard Tip-Off Classic with a win against the Wayne State Wildcats on Friday and a loss to the Upper Iowa Peacocks on Saturday. Western went into the opening game against Wayne State without starting point guard Aaron Emmanuel, who injured his knee during practice, but that did not keep the Griffons from claiming a victory in their season opener. The Wildcats offense had the potential to cause problems for the Griffons, but they were able to contain their opponent according to head coach Brett Weiberg. “Wayne State runs an offense that, if they can get the right personnel in there, the offense is really hard to guard,” Weiberg said. “I thought, overall, our kids did a pretty good job defending it.” Within the first six minutes of the first half, Western was behind Wayne State 14-13, but would quickly take a 16-14 lead and avoid playing from behind for the rest of the half. The Wildcats managed to tie the score at 16 all, but a 10-1 run by the Griffons would give them a 26-17 lead. Wayne State did not back down, cutting Western’s lead to only one point by a score of 32-31 with just over two minutes left in the half. The Griffons contained the Wildcats offense and was able to string together an eight-point run to end the half leading 39-31. Point guard Wes Mitter, who filled in for the injured Emmanuel, lead Western at the half with nine total points, followed by forward Kevin Thomas with seven. The Griffons gained their biggest lead of the game early in the second half, as they lead the Wildcats by 12 with a score of 43-31. Western continued to hold the lead, until Wayne State tied the game 75-75 with just under a minute and a half left to play. Once again, the Griffons were able to keep the Wildcats offense at bay while going on a six-point run to win the first game of the season 81-75. Weiberg was proud that the team continued to execute when the score was close. “When they did cut it [the lead], we had to make plays the last minute and a half, and we made those plays and that’s a positive,” Weiberg said. Four players scored in double digits for Western. Guard Trey Sampson led the team with 18 points, Mitter scored a career-high 15 points and added six assists, forward Mataika Koyamainavure racked up 13 points and led the Griffons with nine rebounds and guard Cole Clearman added 10 points. Weiberg knew that Mitter had the potential at a high level. “Wes played well, and I’m very proud of him, but in no way did it surprise me,” Weiberg said. “The young man had continued to get better and it’s been a pleasure to watch him.” In the second game of the Classic, Western was able to take a 24-21 lead over Upper Iowa late in the first half. The Peacocks did not allow the Griffons to hold onto the lead as they went on a 10-0 run to claim a 31-24 lead with 4:49 left in the half. Western had difficulty cutting into lead the and holding the Upper Iowa offense, which led to an increase in the Peacock lead to 43-32 with eight seconds left in the half. A last second three-pointer by Clearman cut Upper Iowa’s lead down to eight, but Western went into half time down 43-35. Clearman led the Griffons at half with 12 total points and forward Currie Byrd was second with eight points. In the second half, the Peacocks increased their lead over the Griffons to double digits by a score of 58-44. Western cut the lead down to seven points with a 58-51 score, but Upper Iowa put together an 8-0 run, pushing their lead to 15 and the score to 66-51. The Griffons continued to fight, but the Peacocks held onto a double-digit lead until a 10-0 run by Western cut the lead down to four points with a score of 76-72 with a little over three minutes left to go. The Griffons continued to lower the Peacocks lead as they pulled within two with a score of 80-78, but it would not be enough as Upper Iowa went on a 7-0 run to hand Western their first loss 86-78. Weiberg believes that the outcome of the game was dictated largely off of turnovers. “For the most part, it was turnover driven,” Weiberg said. “You can’t score if you turn the ball over, and your turnovers are gonna lead to points on the other end.” Again, the Griffons had four players in double-digit points with Koyamainavure leading the team with 17. Byrd followed him with 15 points, while Sampson scored 14 and Clearman scored 12. Western continues their home stand against the University of Saint Mary Spires on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

Canadian Connection

Canada has become a hotbed for college recruiting, and it has extended to the Division II level now. Head coach Brett Weiberg and Western have jumped on the trend, as well. Aaron Emmanuel and Kevin Thomas have been friends since they were kids growing up in Toronto, and now they are continuing their friendship in St. Joseph. “It means a lot, it means the world,” Emmanuel said. “We grew up together. Having someone that lives literally next door to me in the same city, and now all the way out here in Missouri, couldn’t ask for anything else.” Emmanuel provides Western with a playmaker at the point guard position. His 6-2 frame gives the Griffons great size at the spot, as well. The Griffons’ lead guard gets to live out a childhood dream that many players hope can happen, but very few get the chance to live out. “We have known each other since the fifth grade,” Emmanuel said. “I recruited Kevin here.” He gets to play with a childhood friend and AAU teammate at the collegiate level. "It's definitely a good feeling,” Thomas said. “It’s a good experience to play with my boy, Aaron.” Kevin Thomas serves as the perfect compliment to Emmanuel, with Thomas being an offensive-minded post player, while Emmanuel is a pass-first lead guard. “It makes the world more easy,” Emmanuel said. “We have that relationship on and off the court. We are able to bond and lead the other guys." Thomas was the Griffons second leading scorer last season, after former-Griffon star Cortrez Colbert, with 8.6 points per game. “(Colbert) played a big role on the team last year, being a senior,” Thomas said. “This year, I’m trying to do the same thing.” Thomas is the perfect big man for the system that Weiberg employs with his ability to run the floor and handle the ball well for a big. “I’m a fast-paced guard, so being able to push the ball with bigs that can run makes us that much harder to guard,” Emmanuel said. While Emmanuel struggled with his shooting stroke last season, he excelled with his assist-to-turnover ratio with 81 assists to just 59 turnovers. While Thomas is an ideal frontcourt pairing for the Griffon point guard, Cole Clearman provides that in the backcourt. “It makes my job easy,” Emmanuel said. “As long as I’m able to do what I do best, get in the paint and pass, all they got to do is knock down their shots.” Of Clearman’s 188 shot attempts last season, 144 of them were from three-point range. He hit 34 percent of those attempts. Clearman made more than twice as many threes as his next closest teammate. Overall, Clearman averaged 7.9 points per game while only starting in 15 games. Currie Byrd provides the team with yet another threat from beyond the arc. Over a third of Byrd’s field goal attempts came from long range, and with his 6-7 frame, he provides Western with a stretch-four option off the bench. Another key bench returner is Seth Bonifas. While Byrd is more of a bench shooter; Bonifas provides the bulk for the Griffons when Thomas needs a rest. Bonifas is one of the keys for Weiberg for the season and Bonifas will be a big part of that. “We have to be a smart offensive rebounding team,” Weiberg said. The 6-9, 235-pound sophomore made 54 percent of his shots, with a majority of those coming from close range. Wes Mitter will again resume his role as Emmanuel’s backup. Mitter gives the Griffons’ more floor spacing after he shot 33 percent from behind the arc. Mitter, like Emmanuel, finished with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in limited duty. Weiberg didn’t just sit on his six returning rotation players, as he hit the recruiting trail hard looking for new Griffons to add to the squad. “I love our new group,” Emmanuel said. One catch that Weiberg is very excited about is Trey Sampson. The transfer from Des Moines Area Community College has a chance to make an immediate impact for the Griffons by filling in a major hole for the Griffons on the wing. While Sampson is an athletic guard, the junior has made the biggest impression on his teammates with his long-range shooting ability. He made 81 threes last season for DMACC. “Trey really brings perimeter shooting, defense and high energy,” Emmanuel said. The other big addition for Western is also coming from an Iowa JUCO, but Mataika Koyamainavure’s story extends a lot farther than that. He is originally from Raiwaga, Fiji. “Mataika is probably going to be starting beside (Thomas),” Emmanuel said. “He brings another presence that we need.” The 6-8 forward from joins his sister Miliakere at Western. Miliakere was a starter last season for the women’s team and finished the season as their leading rebounder. Mataika will be counted on to make a similar impact for the men’s team. With all the new players, it is important for the team to stay in the moment. “I want to tell these new guys, ‘It is one game at a time’ and if we go with that mindset we’ll be fine in the end,” Emmanuel said. The Griffon journey starts on Friday against Wayne State as Western hosts the Hillyard Tip-off Classic.

Continuing family tradition

Family and sports seem to go hand-in-hand, and that is no different for Griffon basketball players and Fiji natives, Mili and Mataika Koyamainavure. At a young age, the siblings were surrounded by basketball through their family's neighborhood team, the Davui Magics, or even watching their aunt coach the Fiji National under-20 team. These experiences created lasting memories, explained Mataika. “Me and my sister would follow them [my family] around wherever they went and played when we were little kids,” Mataika said. “While they were playing, I was like four and my sister would have been five, we would be on the side of the court just bouncing and playing. We would run onto the court and they would have to stop the game and chase us off. I can still remember that.” The memories led to a love of basketball that the whole family shares according to Mili. "My brother and I both made our debut in 2010 for our National Under-20 team and that was pretty special," Mili said. “Not only do I respect and love the game, but my brother and I are continuing our family tradition in the sport.” The siblings' passion for the sport turned into collegiate talent when they both began their college careers at junior colleges in Iowa. Mili and Mataika had plans to play for the same school in Iowa, but when that fell through, Mili attended Iowa Central Community College and Mataika went to Southwestern Community College. “At that time, the rule was only to allow a certain amount of international players and there had been three of us at Iowa Central,” Mili said. “So, the coach contacted the head coach at Southwestern so my brother could still play here in the U.S.” Even though Mili and Mataika had to go their separate ways, they both found success at their schools. Mili is now ranked No. 12 in points in Iowa Central history with 892, as well as ranked No. 9 all-time for points in a season with 545. At Southwestern, Mataika was named 2nd Team All-Region in his sophomore season, scoring 426 points and averaging 12.9 points per game. Although their original plan to play at the same school did not work out the first time, they would have another chance at Western. Mili transferred to Western following her last year at Iowa Central. The transfer seemed to be the perfect fit to what she was looking for. "I knew whatever school I was going to end up in, I had to work hard for my spot on the team," Mili said. "On my official visit to Missouri Western, it felt like the right place for me. I loved the girls that were on the team that took me on my visit and the school has a good business program, which is what I'm going into." After Mili finished her first season as a Griffon, and Mataika finished his last season at Southwestern, head coach Brett Weiberg recruited Mataika. “I had known about him because one of his teammates actually sent us film,” Weiberg said. “I put two and two together with coach [Rob] Edmisson and when he said Mili’s brother is at Southwest Iowa, I went back and looked at the film and thought hey, this young man is not bad. I thought he had great hands, he was not afraid of his physicality, he's a good passer and he has a good touch from 15 feet and in.” After a visit, Mataika chose to come to Western because of the team and the opportunity to learn from assistant coach Aaron Coombs. "Our assistant coach, coach Coombs, is one of the reasons why I chose to come here because he played my position, played DI and played professional so I really want to follow in those footsteps," Mataika said. "My dream is to play another five years after Western professionally and I know he'll prepare me for professional if I want to play." Knowing that he would be able to represent the school alongside Mili also played a major factor in Mataika’s decision. “It was one of the big reasons why I chose to come here, because my sister is here,” Mataika said. “It’s exciting, I can’t wait. When people start realizing that there is a brother and sister playing for our school, it’s exciting.” Once Mili knew her brother’s decision, she was happy to finally get the chance to play the game that they love at the same school. “I have a really tight bond with my siblings and it has been a hard four years. Not being able to share any of my collegiate career with my family, especially with my parents has been the hardest,” Mili said. “When he [Mataika] decided to come here, I was so excited considering he had other schools recruiting him. I love the fact that I am able to share this experience with him and we can’t be thankful enough to Missouri Western and the coaches for the opportunity.” Weiberg also understands the importance of reuniting Mataika and Mili. “I think it’s very nice for him to have, if nothing else, off the floor. On the floor, nothing changes. We coach him the same, but it’s just a blessing for him off the floor to have family,” Weiberg said. “He’s halfway around the world almost, but yet he has his sister right here and that they can see each other every day, I think it just helps at the end.” Now that the siblings have been brought back together, they have their mindset on preparing for the upcoming season. Mili is working towards having a successful senior season and is confident that she can end her career at Western on a high note. “We have a very good team this year. We have all our returners back and we have some very talented new players,” Mili said. “The difference between this season and last is that, this year, the expectations are higher and we have another shot at achieving our goal. Then again, I feel that now that we [returners] have been through the program once and experienced how tough our conference is, there shouldn't be any excuses  but, we will take one game as it comes." Mataika has been getting to know his new team while gearing up for his first game at the Division-II level. “For the first week, we [the team] got to know each other and the second week it was like we knew each other forever, we’re brothers,” Mataika said. "It's intense, in practice we get after it and I've gotten some minor injuries because of the contact but it's worth it. I think I’ll be nervous and excited for the first game, because it’ll be the first at another level. I’m just going to compete, help the team be successful and have fun at the same time.” Mili will begin her senior year as the Griffon women open up their season against the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs in the SMSU classic on Friday, Nov. 13. Mataika will make his Western debut as the Griffon men open their season at home against the Wayne State Wildcats in the Hillyard Tip-Off Classic on Friday, Nov. 13.

‘Do you want to win?’

  A common phrase in the coaching community and one many sports fans know is “It is not about the X's and O's – it's all about the Jimmys and the Joes.” What this means is that many times in the world of coaching and sports, it does not matter if you out plan the opponent, or if you play with more heart and want to win more the the person you are facing. The truth of the matter is that many times what it all comes down to is if your players have more talent and natural ability than the players across from them. In the world of collegiate athletics, the reality of the world we live in is that it takes money and a commitment from more that just the people that are directly responsible for finding players and developing players. Coaches and athletic departments need money to travel and find players and have players come to see them. Griffon men's basketball has had a rough season this year. They currently sport a 7-10 conference record, while having just an 11-13 mark overall. That .458 winning percentage is the best the program has had since the 2009-2010 season when they finished 18-12 and reached the NCAA tournament. Since that season, the program has changed coaches and has seemed to have a shift with how money is used as far men's basketball recruiting. In only his second season at the helm of Griffon men's basketball, head coach Brett Weiberg has managed to get the team heading in the right direction and making strides from the time he took the reins. Inflation happens with everything these days, and collegiate sports are certainly not immune to this. As prices have continued to rise for many things associated with the recruitment of athletes and the general running of a college basketball program, institutional support for the program here at Missouri Western has actually decreased. “Everything is more expensive than it was three years ago, four years ago, certainly 10 years ago, and our league expanded,” Weiberg said. “We added teams, we added geographical area, we added Kearney, we added Hays not that long ago and we added the Oklahoma teams. Now we have trips that cost money that we never had before. I don't think our budgets have accounted for that, so it makes your money tight.” According to the October NCAA Financial Reports that Missouri Western submits yearly to NCAA, direct institutional support has actually gone down since 2011. In the 2011 report, it shows $380,626 in direct institutional support, while in the 2014 version of the same document shows only $356,074 in direct institutional support. While those may appear rather large to the casual observer, when compared to other schools in the conference those figures are not enough to reasonably expect a year-in and year-out contender to be born out of program that has been stuck in mediocrity for a while now. Northwest Missouri State University, Missouri Western's main rival and a school that devotes a lion's share of its athletic budget to its perennial-power football team, provides men's basketball $437,290 of direct institutional support. For Missouri Southern University, that number is $413,978. “Do you want to win and be competitive or do you want to stay within your realm?” Missouri Western Athletic Director Kurt McGuffin said. “Southern is financially similar to us. I'm not crying... but it's hard to compete with people in the conference when your getting $100,000 to $200,000 less [in direct institutional support for the the whole athletic department].” The University of Central Missouri tops all others above with $751,493. The Mules also just happen to to the defending national champions. “Do we want to be competitive and do things similar to other schools?” McGuffin said. “I'm not trying to be Central Missouri because theirs is ungodly – basically they told me they get whatever they want.” The Griffons are coming off an 18-point loss to their rival Bearcats on Saturday. The Bearcats are currently leading the conference with a 13-4 conference record and are 20-5 overall. All of the players for Northwest Missouri that played in that contest have been at Northwest since they began their college careers. Northwest has made a point to target high school players and get them to their program and develop these players in their four years as a Bearcat. Only one of Missouri Western's starters in that game started his college career as a Griffon, and 48 of the Griffons' 54 points came from athletes which have transferred into the program. “I did bring in some kids that were with me at my junior college and that helped keep the cost down on recruiting, because when you bring in kids that were already with you, you don't spend near as much money recruiting them,” Weiberg said. The transfer route works for many programs. Often, these programs have limited budgets and use the transfer route to obtain players that are more proven and have less risk than the high school players that teams may not have the ability to scout due to their limited budget and resources, but Western has relied almost exclusively on it in the past. “We have enough to compete, but obviously the more money we have the better,” Weiberg said. This season, Weiberg has shown a desire to adjust from that method by bringing in four freshmen, including starter Cole Clearman. In order for Weiberg to continue to change the culture here at Western into a winning one, he will need the university's financial support to compete in the MIAA and on a national level. Athletics are a big money venture at the NCAA level and time will tell if Western will do what it takes to get the "Jimmys and the Joes" to challenge its rivals and the rest of the MIAA.