Warner, OK- Connors State emerged from a three-seed spot and laid claim to an NJCAA National Tournament berth on Saturday, winning the Region II championship 83-62 over eighth-seed Northern-Enid at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee.
The Cowboys learned their fate on Monday. They're seeded 21st and will take on Hutchinson, Kan., the tournament host, seeded 12th in the 24-team field, at 8:30 p.m. next Monday. The top eight national seeds draw byes. The winner of the first night's featured game gets Chipola (Fla.) on Wednesday, March 16.
On Saturday, the Cowboys (28-5) used an 11-0 start to get going then a 14-0 run in the second half to finish off the upstarts
An 11-0 run to start the game got them rolling, then the upstarts, who beat top-seeded Northern-Tonkawa in the opening round, got within 42-36 in the second half before the Cowboys answered with with a 14-0 run.
D.J. Basey's regulation jumper at the 15:55 mark capped that 11-0 start. Enid didn't score until Chris Wiseman hit one of two free throws with 14:52 left. One full minute later, Marquel Sutton inside made it 16-1 then the Jets 33 got his team's first field goal, putting it at 16-3 with 12:51 until the half.
Sutton's free throws at 4:56 to go until the half gave Connors its biggest lead of the half, 33-14. But the Jets closed strong. Dakoda Joachim was fouled on a 3 and sank all three free throws with just over a second left on the clock to make it 40-32 at the half.
Sutton's basket got the Cowboys on the board first in the second half, but Enid ran off seven straight after that. Jlynn Counter's feed to Jamarion Butler for a layup cut it to 42-36 with 16:57 left, forcing a Cowboys' timeout.
Sutton drained a 3 from the right wing and had it back to a nine-point lead with 16:23 left. Basey's free throws at 15:59 got it back to double digits at 47-36.
It wouldn't shrink from that, and a sequence of plays by Jordan Tillmon put an exclamation point on it.
Tillmon hit a 3 with 13:59 left for a 50-36 lead, then then fed Jahcoree Ealy for a slam, then took an outlet pass from Greg Johnson, who came up with a steal on Enid's baseline, then sank the fast-break layup to make it 54-36.
Ealy's free throws with 12:30 to play made it a 20-point game and finished the 14-0 run.
Tillmon's free throws gave Connors its biggest lead, 81-57, with 1:37 left.
The Cowboys will take a six-game win streak into Hutchinson. It's the 11th time a Bill Muse-coached squad has made the event and the 14th in school history. The last time was 2018. They've made three Final Fours under Muse. As recently as 2015, they reached the Elite Eight and started the tournament as the top seed.
The last time they were there, Bill Muse Jr. was a player. This time, he's his dad's assistant, coming on a year the head guy passed 700 wins.
"That's really cool, really special, to now have him on staff for one," said the elder Muse.
The veteran coach was a bit disappointed with the seed.
"If you look at the history of our program and region, traditionally we've done well out there with two national champions out of here with us and NEO and most recently, last year, Tonkawa was in the elite eight," he said.
"This year the region hasn't got the respect it's earned. I don't think a team in our region was ranked the whole year."
Seeing Tonkawa getting knocked out in round one might have contributed to that. But, the Cowboys get an opportunity to knock the host team out off the bat.
"We're looking forward to the challenge of playing Hutch," Muse said, noting they met in the 1994 semifinals and lost by one. "The place was packed then. Crowds have been down all over the country, but being the featured game that night, I think there will be a good crowd if not a sellout."