SHAWNEE-Connors State's quest for a third consecutive trip to the NJCAA National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. came up short as Northeastern A&M hit a bucket with 1.6 seconds on the clock to escape with a 67-65 victory in the Region II Men's Basketball Tournament at the Noble Complex on the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University.
Norsemen's Reaudale Williams hit a short jumper to give NEO the victory after Burke Putnam, who led the Cowboys' scoring with 23 points, knotted the game at 65-all with 9.6 seconds on the clock.
Following Williams basket, Connors had one last chance to tie the game and send it into overtime or win it at the buzzer. The Cowboys called time out to set up a play. Connors had to go the full length of the floor for one last attempt.
On the inbounds pass, the ball reached Callen Haydon, who finished with 17 points, put up a shot left of the circle from 25 feet out. The shot bounced off the back of the rim and fell to the floor. The Norse escaped with the win and the right to represent Region II in the NJCAA National Tournament March 8-13 in Hutchinson, Kan.
"The last minute and a half we didn't handle a couple of situations properly," said Coach Bill Muse. "They (NEO) hit some tough shots at the end.
"That last shot with 1.6 left was a hell've shot. But I am proud of these guys they fought back. We won 26 games and lost by one basket. Even at the end we put up a shot," said Muse.
Trailing 50-40 at the 12:32 mark, the Cowboys scored 10 unanswered points to deadlock the clash. NEO then regained the lead on a bucket by Kyle Lukasiewicz, who was named All-Tournament, and finished with 16 points.
That lead was short lived as Cowboys Isiah Jones, who was an All-Tournament selection and posted his third consecutive double-double with 14 rebounds and 14 points, tied the game for a second time at 52-all with 8:04 remaining.
Cowboys then took its first lead of the game after 34 minutes of play, 55-54 when Putman converted a 12-foot jumper with six minutes left to play.
The game was tied three more times setting the stage for the final frantic seconds in the game. "We just didn't get the breaks down toward the end," said Muse, adding "But I am proud of these guys, we accomplished a lot."
In the end Muse admitted his club kind of over achieved, saying "To some degree, yes. We didn't have one superstar; we had only one player make all-region.
"They just played well as a team and you can't ask anything more of them," said Muse.
Connors shot 41.5 percent from the field 22-of-53 including 4-of-14 on 3-point attempts and was 17-of-25 at the free throw line. They pulled down 39 rebounds. NEO was 39.3 percent from the field (24-61) including 5-of-20 from behind the arc and 14-of-24 at the line. They also pulled down 39 rebounds.
NORTHEASTERN A&M 67, CONNORS STATE 65
Connors State 29 36—65
Northeastern A&M 38 29—67
Connors State (26-6)—Putnam 23, Haydon 17, I. Jones 14, T. Jones 7, Riggs 3, Sidberry 1.
Northeastern A&M (27-6)—Lukasiewicz 16, Cole 16, Moody 12, Van Eck 11, Williams 6, Van Putten 4, Williams 2.