Now things get tough for the State Fair Community College men’s basketball team.
The Roadrunners’ schedule to start the second half of their season could provide a rude awakening.
“When you look at our schedule in January and February, it’s going to be quite a challenge, but I think one that I hope our players are excited about,” State Fair coach Dale Ribble said.
With 15 games left on their schedule, the Roadrunners will face eight teams that are ranked or receiving votes in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association Division-I or Division-II polls.
State Fair (9-6) is enjoying its best start in recent years, having already surpassed its win total from the past two years combined.
The play of Sanijay Watts has been one of the keys for State Fair. The 6-foot-4 sophomore forward is averaging more than 20 points per game.
“We knew he could score,” Ribble said. “When he decided to come to State Fair, we knew he was a good scorer. ... I think the thing that I really like about Sanijay is not only can he score, he’s very efficient.”
The first-year coach said the Roadrunners have been the most successful when they have others — like Norrel Holder and Shasta Scott — scoring in double figures to complement Watts.
Ribble points to the Roadrunners’ defensive play as another key to their wins and a major point of focus for the second half of the season.
“I think for our team to be really good, we’ve got to be very good defensively and we’ve got to limit teams to one shot,” he said.
Even with the improvements, State Fair heads into the second half of the season ranked last in Region 16 in scoring and points allowed.
The Roadrunners face the unenviable task of facing three nationally recognized teams within the first week of retaking the floor after a month-long break.
“It’s almost like we’re starting over,” Ribble said of the break. “With the guys being off for Christmas break, and then coming back, we’ve got to get in really good shape and do the best we can because we’ve got a lot of games in a short amount of time.”
State Fair opens its second half at 7 p.m. Monday in Ottumwa, Iowa, against Indian Hills, which is receiving votes in the latest Division-I poll. The Roadrunners return home Wednesday for a 7:30 p.m. showdown against Penn Valley, the 10th-ranked team in Division II.
The brutal week wraps up Saturday when the Roadrunners open Region 16 play against Three Rivers. Three Rivers (11-3) is ranked sixth in the latest Division-I poll.
“I think we’ll find out very quickly where we stand up with those people,” Ribble said. “No matter what the result is there, I hope our guys learn and I hope the coaching staff learns that it’s going to help us improve, no matter what the result is.”
The schedule never really lets up, with two games being the longest stretch the Roadrunners will go without facing a ranked opponent.
All five teams in the region head into the second half with winning records. Missouri State-West Plains, ranked 16th in the latest poll, has the best overall record at 15-1.
Mineral Area (12-4) is likely sitting just outside of the polls and Moberly held a 10-5 record heading into a home game against Kirkwood on Saturday night.