Elan Spencer could not go out and celebrate with his teammates Saturday night following the Columbia Claim Jumpers 75-57 victory over the Modesto Junior College Pirates at Oak Pavilion.
While other Jumpers may have gone out for dinner, or spent the rest of the evening with their girlfriends, the only date Spencer had was with the Sonora Regional Medical Center Emergency Room.
The 6-foot-10 freshman was playing one of his best games of the young season. He had 10 points and a number of rebounds. But midway through the second half, Spencer, along with teammate Eugene Harvey, went up for a rebound. The ball eluded both players, but Harvey’s elbow did not miss Spencer’s nose.
After the powerful blow, Spencer was slightly dazed.
It was the dripping of blood that suggested there was an issue.
“He’s popped me in the nose before during practice, but this time I felt it crack and I knew something was up,” Spencer said post game before heading to the hospital.
Within minutes of being removed, Columbia’s athletic trainer Kathy Kenna let head coach Rob Hoyt know the status in two words.
Spencer doesn’t fault his teammate for the injury.
“Life happens, the game happens and the game will still be played,” Spencer said. “It’s great to play in front of the fans here and I just wanted to give us another ‘W.’ I’m just looking forward to coming out again and playing with these guys as soon as I can.”
Spencer won’t have to wait long to return to the floor. He is cleared to play, but will wear a protective mask until his nose heals.
“He’s starting to improve and I thought he was playing great up until the point he got hurt,” Hoyt said. “He wanted to come back in, so that’s a good sign of his toughness.”
Spencer was not the only Jumper who was tough Saturday night.
Columbia started the game with a 9-0 run with five points from guard Jordan Windley, a pair of free throws from Spencer and a coast-to-coast bucket from sophomore Lewayne Grant.
Modesto made one free throw and the Jumpers continued their offensive assault. Tracy Hampton drained a corner three and Ethan Mclaurin scored in the paint.
With a 15-4 lead, Columbia went on a 10-0 run. Spencer hit back-to-back jumpers, and DeAndre Stallings and Grant knocked down 3-pointers. Columbia led 29-6 after a Hampton steal and basket with 6:52 remaining in the first half.
While the Jumpers were clicking offensively, it was their defense that was making things difficult for the Pirates.
“We were really reacting well and moving together on defense,” Windley said. “The defense is what leads the offense and that helped us get buckets.”
Columbia led 37-21 at halftime.
“I was more pleased with our defense tonight,” Hoyt said. “The two guys that we didn’t want to let hit a 3, didn’t, and one of them didn’t score and the other only had eight points. So we did a great job on those two guys.”
Where there Jumpers were less than impressive was from the free throw line. In the first half, Columbia was 9 for 21 from the charity stripe. The shooting improved slightly in the second half, but the Jumpers finished the night making 23 on 41 attempts.
Hoyt believes that good shooting is contagious, but on the flipside, so is bad shooting.
“I think guys start thinking about it,” Hoyt said. “We had multiple guys missing multiple free throws. It’s kind of a weight that bears down on you as a player and you have to snap out of it. Luckily we did at the end because we had the right guys shooting the free throws.”
Columbia came out flat to begin the second half. The 16-point lead that was built in the game’s first 20 minutes had been reduced to nine with 15:17 left to play.
But just when Modesto started to feel good, Grant hit a corner 3 by the Jumpers’ bench, Hampton made a layup and Harvey added a free throw. The Pirates ended the 7-0 run with a field goal, but Columbia struck for five more, capped by a Stallings 3 and the Jumpers led 50-31.
With less than 10 minutes to play, tempers started to flair. Calls were made that both coaches disagreed with, and a number of non-calls left players upset. Talking and rough play began to take over and the Jumpers knew they couldn’t retaliate.
“They were getting frustrated because of the score and they were just falling apart,” Windley said. “Coach told us to stick together, not to say anything, and to just win the game.”
Hoyt added, “We talk about situations like that daily. So when the game gets to the point where there are words being said and it’s chippy and more physical, we don’t want them to back down. We want them to rise to that, but to do it in an educated way.”
No technicals were given to either team. But should a T been handed out to someone representing Columbia, it won’t be to someone wearing a jersey.
“If someone is going to lose their cool or say something, it’s going to be me and that’s because of the discipline we have from a day-in and day-out standpoint,” Hoyt said. “They know when I say something, they are going to do it. So when I tell them to be quiet, they are quiet. If someone’s going to get at T, that’s always going to be me.”
In the middle of the trash talking and physical play, Modesto went on an 11-0 run and cut the Jumpers lead to 61-53 with three minutes to play.
“Of course you get worried, but it’s all in your mind,” Windley said. “You have to keep your mental game on point and just push through and keep playing.”
Modesto tried to make its comeback by banking on Columbia missing more free throws. But fouling Stallings was not the answer. Stallings made nine of his 15 points from the free throw line and was 6 for 7 in the second half.
Grant led the way with a game-high 23 points and five assists. Stallings had 15 and nine rebounds. Windley scored 12, Hampton and Spencer each had 10 points. The Jumpers got another strong night from Harvey, who pulled down 13 rebounds. McLaurin had eight boards.
“Our chemistry is getting better,” Hoyt said. “Guys understand their roles a little better and the purpose of the offense. We are at a good place moving forward.”
Columbia (3-4) is off until Thursday, when it plays in the Santa Barbara City Tournament. The Jumpers don’t return to Oak Pavilion until the final game of the preseason, which is at 6 p.m. Dec. 30 against San Joaquin Delta College.
Contact Guy Dossi at (209) 588-4538 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @DossiGuy