WARNER—When Bill Muse began recruiting his club for the 2019-20 basketball season he was looking for talented, athletic freshmen to go along with only one returning starter and two part time starters.
It appears his Cowboys have lived up to his expectations after the first semester of play. Muse's current squad has posted an impressive 15-1 record en route to NJCAA national ranking 21 at one time. The lone loss was to the University of Southern –Shreveport, 76-75 on the their home floor.
"We played clubs from five different states (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) and that is something we have never done in the past," said Muse.
"This program has high expectations every year. I thought we would be pretty good but I didn't know now how fast. But we still have a lot of hard games ahead. We still have a long way to go, but I am happy with the way the first semester went," said Muse.
His previous squad that missed returning to the NJCAA National Tournament for the third consecutive year, losing to Northeastern A&M in the Region II championship game by two points.
It left a bitter taste in the head coach's mouth who has guided the Connors State program for 28 seasons. It was time to reload and Muse as done just that.
But to return to the National Tournament for the 11th time under Muse' tutelage the Cowboys will embark on a rugged 14-game Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference beginning January 6th.
Cowboys open at home against Seminole State and then go on the road to play Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa, the No. 9th ranked team nation, in the first week after their return from the Christmas break.
Muse knows it won't be easy, but he believes his talented club is ready for the challenge ahead.
"We had a lot of questions coming into the season, because of the pre-season injuries we had" said Muse.
The Cowboys lost 6-11 post player Oumar Keita, a freshman from Hazzard, Ky., who sustained a knee injury in a pick-up game that resulted in surgery for an ACL tear.
Then Isaiah Francis, a sophomore transfer from New Mexico Military Institute, who averaged 19 points a game, sustained a wrist injury, was lost for the year.
"I thought both had a good chance to start for us this season. But we have had some guys filled in the gap very well." said Muse.
Filling in the gaps for the Cowboys is part-time starter from a year ago sophomore Caleb Riggs at the two guard and freshman guard/forward Jahcoree Ealy from Twin Groves, Ark. Riggs scored a career high 28 points against Mid-American Christian University Junior Varsity in the first semester finale.
Without the 6-11 Keita, Muse said "the post position has been solid."
The only returning starter for the Cowboys is sophomore Callen Haydon, 6-0 point guard from El Reno, who averages 17.5 points outing."With Callen's leadership the first semester is much better that I expected," said Muse.
However, the key to the Cowboys success has been the play of the freshman. Their play has not been a surprise for Muse.
"I can't say their play has been a surprise," said Muse. 'I saw them play in high school. We were a little under sized in the post area and I thought that might hurt us a little.
"Everyone we have played has been under sized so far. But I knew from the beginning we were athletic. I thought if we stayed organized we could be pretty good. But I didn't expect it this soon."
In the 15 victories Connors has won two overtime victories, including a 122-114 win over OCAC opponent Eastern Oklahoma State, establishing a single game scoring mark, eclipsing the 121 points established in 1994 against Bacone College.
Known for their defensive play, Muse has been satisfied, allowing only an average of 71.4 points to the opposition, while scoring 102.6 an outing, which includes 10 games surpassing the century mark.
However, with the Cowboys remaining 14 games, all OCAC encounters, it will be difficult to maintain.
"We have 14 conference games remaining and everyone is equal and will be competitive. We are going to have to fight for every game.
"Fortunately we started out 2-0, beating Western on the road and Eastern at home."
"Two of the freshmen who have surprised Muse are Early (17.0 scoring average, 6.9 rebounds) and Jarquavious Cain (17.3 scoring and 9.8 rebounds).
"Both play hard and have really come on during the first semester," said Muse. "They have exceeded my expectations and been a very pleasant surprise."
Along with the play of Haydon the other sophomore who has played "solid" has been Daylon Tanksley, 6-7 forward from Ft. Worth, Texas. The Texan is averaging 12.3 points and 5.9 rebounds a game.
Tanksley scored a career high 26 points against Mid-American Christian University Junior Varsity in the final game of the first semester.
Two others who have played a big part in the CSC success are Jordan Graham, sophomore from Farmington Hill, Mich. (11.0 scoring average, 8.0 rebounds) and Gabe Hornsby, freshman from Bentonville, Ark., (7.3 average, 5.1 rebounds).
"We have a long way to go, but if our guys continue to play like they have, we can reach our goals of a conference title, Region II championship, and earning return trip to Hutchinson, Kan., the NJCAA National Tournament.