SHAWNEE--The third consecutive year Connors State will be playing for NJCAA Region II championship on Saturday and an opportunity to advance to the NJCAA National Tournament, March 18-23 in Hutchinson, Kan.
The Cowboys (26-5) will play Northeastern A&M for the third time this season and for the Region II crown for the second year in a row.
The Cowboys defeated Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa 65-56 at the Noble Complex Friday afternoon on the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University in a semifinal clash to advance to the title game.
Connors and NEO (26-6) will tangle at 2 p.m., who split in the regular season, each winning on their home floor. The Norse advanced by defeating Seminole State, 60-57 in the other semifinal.
It was the play of the Cowboys' 6-8 sophomore forward Isaiah Jones from Phoenix, Ariz., that powered the Cowboys past the stubborn Mavericks.
"Isaiah Jones' play was huge," said Cowboys Coach Bill Muse. "He had another double-double for the second game in a row He was outstanding."
Jones, who was a one-man wrecking crew, pulled down 17 rebounds and scored 21 points, with two block shots in the victory. Jones was followed in the scoring by Callen Haydon and Burke Putnam with 11 points each.
"We were never in any jeopardy of losing the game," said Muse. "We led at the start, at the half and only lost lead for about two minutes in the second half. I think we dominated that game. We out rebounded them by 12 (39-27) and held their all-region player (Keiodre Perry) to seven points."
The one phase of the game which hurt the Cowboys was turnovers. Connors committed 18 in the game. "Those turnovers hurt us of a little bit," said Muse. "But we were able to overcome it. That was too many or it would have been a larger margin of victory in the game. You have to give credit to them (Northern), they were pressing us. It was a physical game. You just have to try and play through it though. And we were able to do it," said Muse.
The Mavericks, who trailed the Cowboys 33-31 at the half did not gain its first lead of the game until the 19:31 mark of the second half on a 3-point basket by Omar Boone, who finished with 10 points to make it 34-33 Mavericks. Deon Berrien led the Mavericks with 13 points.
Following Boone's basket, Cowboys' Isaiah Jones scored to put Connors back on top 35-34 with 18:32 left. A pair of free throws by Boone made it 36-35 Mavs, before the Cowboys went on a 7-0 run to take the lead for good, 42-36 with 15:18 on the clock.
The Cowboys stretched its lead to eight points three times over the next five minutes, the last with 10:35 remaining, for a 52-44 advantage.
The Mavericks came no closer than four points, 57-53 with 2:43 left in the physical contest. The Cowboy then stretched its lead to nine points at the final buzzer on two free throws by Sidberry, a bucket by Isaiah Jones and four consecutive free throws by Hayden, who was perfect at the charity stripe, connecting on all-eight attempts.
In the first 20 minutes of play the Cowboys never trailed as Connors' Isaiah Jones scored the opening bucket of the game. Cowboys largest lead of the half and the game was 10 points, 17-7 at the 14:27 mark.
Muse was very happy with the play of the Cowboys' defense, holding the Mavericks under the 60-point threshold. "Our defense was excellent the last two days. We are right where we want to be.
"It's going to be a quick turnaround to play NEO," said Muse. "They will play a 2-3 zone and we just have to get inside to get some shots tomorrow. They are long too and we have to be able to rebound. Defense is going to be a big key."
Not only will a win over NEO give the Cowboys a third straight Region II Championship and trip to the National Tournament, it will be a milestone for Muse, who could notch his 650th victory in 26 seasons as head coach of the Cowboys against just 228 losses.
CONNORS STATE 65, NOC-TONKAWA 56
Connors State 33 32—65
NOC-Tonkawa 31 25—56
Connors State (26-5)—I. Jones 21, Haydon 11, Putnam 11, Sidberry 8, T. Jones 8, Lowe 4, Graham 2.
NOC-Tonkawa (20-12)—Berrien 13, Boone 10, Johnson 9, Stone 9, Perry 7, Downing 4, Banks ton 3, Tanner 1.