It’s been a long road back to have a night like this for Ronnie Stevens.
Since injuring his shoulder on during a 13-point effort against Independence back on Dec. 8, the returning sophomore has had to battle his way back onto the floor. Prior to Tuesday night, Stevens had played just 14 minutes over the last 13 Warrior games including eight games missed.
On Tuesday night at the Hellyer Student Life Center, Stevens returned to form. The Los Angeles native scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for a well-earned double-double as the fifth-ranked Warriors ran away from struggling Three Rivers, 100-66, in the tune-up to a regional battle of nationally-ranked top-five rivals.
“It feels good to be back on the floor,” Stevens said. “I had to work my back up just to start playing again. I’ve been working hard and depending my team while I’ve been sitting down. It feels good to be back out there with them.”
Stevens was hardly the only Warrior to have success against the Raiders in a rematch of a much closer battle back on Jan. 9. Five different players reached double figures and all 11 IHCC players that got on the floor scored as the Warriors hit the century mark for the 13th time this season.
“It was nice to get everyone out there,” freshman Majok Deng said. “Everyone got out there and everyone’s shots started player. Everybody played a great game for us.”
For head coach Barret Peery, getting every player quality minutes was important with the Warriors having just four regular season games left this season.
“It’s very important to keep guys sharp and keep guys in tune with what we’ve got going on,” Peery said. “As we try and make a run at this thing down the stretch throughout February and hopefully into March, we’re going to need everybody on different nights. That’s why it’s important to get these guys time.”
Ironically, the only player who didn’t play for the Warriors was leading scorer and rebound Jameel McKay. Needing someone to fill in as a post presence, Stevens came off the bench and produced eight points to join Richard Amardi as the Warriors leading scorer in the first half.
Though he only played less then minute in IHCC’s earlier 81-77 win at Three Rivers, Stevens gained a lot of knowledge from the earlier matchup with the Raiders.
“I saw that game from a different perspective and was able to tell the guys some of the things I saw from the bench,” Stevens said. “Being there has it’s benefits. We were able to work on some of those things and we were able to come out with a better gameplan.”
Just like the game at Three Rivers, No. 5 IHCC came out strong as the Warriors raced out to a 10-1 lead in the opening minutes. The Warriors could not expand on that early lead, giving the Raiders a window to rally back.
Just as they did last month, Three Rivers erased an early deficit against the Warriors. Ayinde Sprewell scored 11 of his 18 points in the first half with his first nine helping the Raiders cut IHCC’s lead down to just one, 22-21, midway through the first half.
“I think the biggest thing was that we were very passive and not very passionate or aggressive,” Peery said. “We were pretty aggressive early on, then all of a sudden it became 22-21.”
“We needed to get aggressive again and get back to playing downhill at both ends.”
The Warriors answered their coach’s charge by reeling off a dozen points in a row. Four straight points by Stevens got the ball rolling with four straight points before lay-ups by Ronald Ross, Dustin Hogue and an emphatic slam by Amardi gave IHCC a 34-21 lead.
“We’ve had good moments and average moments over the last couple of weeks,” Peery said. “I thought our guys did a good job respecting their opponent and handling their business.”
After losing an 11-point halftime lead before rallying late at Three Rivers, IHCC made sure there would be no such drama on Tuesday against the Raiders. Ross and Frank Williams, who each had just four points at halftime, led IHCC with 16 points apiece with Williams scoring 11 in a row at one point as the Warriors drained eight of their nine 3-pointers in the second half on the way to opening up a 37-point lead.
Ibrahim Djambo, who scored a game-high 26 against the Warriors one month ago, led all scorers with a 21-point, 11-rebound double-double. The loss was the seventh in the last eight games for Three Rivers, who fell to 14-12 on the season.
No. 5 IHCC (24-2) rides a 10-game winning streak into their biggest game of the season. The Warriors will have a chance to clinch the top seed in Region XI for the second straight year, but will have to beat fourth-ranked Iowa Western who haven’t lost since suffering their first defeat of the year at Indian Hills three weeks ago.
“Games like theses are why you come to coach and play at a place like Indian Hills,” Peery said. “It’s a chance to play a marquee opponent in a marquee game. That ought to be the best game in the country on Saturday.”
No. 5 (DI) Indian Hills 100, Three Rivers 66
TRCC (66) — Ibrahim Djambo 21, Ayinde Sprewell 18, Jalen Lacy 9, Nelson Ollie 4, Eli Sample 4, Brandon Strickland 3, Eljie Johnson 2, John Meyer 2, Cameron Ross 2, Jordan McGowan 1. Totals 21-55 22-33 66.
3-point goals — 2-17 (Strickland 1-3, Djambo 1-5, Sample 0-1, Sprewell 0-1, James Macklin 0-1, Will Holifield 0-3, McGowan 0-3). Fouled out — Meyer. Rebounds — 36 (Djambo 11, Lacy 9, Ollie 4, Johnson 3, Ross 2, Sample 2, Sprewell 2, Holifield, Meyer, Strickland). Assists — 18 (Ollie 4, Lacy 3, Johnson 2, Ross 2, Strickland 2, Djambo, Macklin, McGowan, Meyer, Sprewell). Steals — 7 (Lacy 2, Sprewell 2, Macklin, Ollie, Strickland). Blocks — 2 (Djambo 2). Total fouls — 21. Turnovers — 22.
IHCC (100) — Ronald Ross 16, Frank Williams 16, Richard Amardi 14, Ronnie Stevens 11, Dustin Hogue 10, Majok Deng 8, Martin Dixon-Green 7, Jelan Kendrick 7, Rawane Ndiaye 3, Trinson White 3, Gary Williams, Jr. 3, Gary Ross 2. Totals 37-78 17-22 100.
3-point goals — 9-24 (). Fouled out — Ndiaye. Rebounds — 47 (Amardi 11, Stevens 10, Hogue 7, Deng 4, Ndiaye 3, R. Ross 3, Kendrick 2, G. Ross 2, White 2, Dixon-Green, Williams, Williams, Jr.). Assists — 31 (Kendrick 9, Hogue 6, R. Ross 5, G. Ross 4, Stevens 3, Amardi, Dixon-Green, Ndiaye, Williams). Steals — 10 (Kendrick 2, Stevens 2, Amardi, Deng, Dixon-Green, Hogue, R. Ross, Williams). Blocks — 5 (Stevens 2, Deng, Kendrick, R. Ross). Total fouls — 23 (Technicals - Williams). Turnovers — 12.
Halftime: Indian Hills 43, Three Rivers 30