SHAWNEE — Excessive turnovers in the first five minutes and the inability to hit free throws down the stretch caused defending Men’s Division I Region II champion Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College to drop a 74-68 decision Thursday afternoon to Seminole State College in the quarterfinals at Don Sumner Field House on the campus of St. Gregory’s University.
With the loss the No. 4 seed Golden Norse conclude the season with a 16-14 record.
The No. 5 seed Seminole Trojans enter the 3 p.m. Friday semifinal game with a 19-8 overall mark.
The Trojans face top seed Connors State College after the Cowboys eliminated Redlands College 87-85 in Friday’s first semifinal game. Redlands (18-12) edged past Murray State College (7-19) by an 87-82 score on Monday in a play-in game at El Reno.
Connors advance in the single elimination tournament with a 24-6 record on the year. The Cowboys have already earned an invitation to the NJCAA Men’s Division I National Tournament, March 20-25, in Hutchinson, Kansas by virtue of winning the Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference (13-3).
Even if they lose, the Cowboys go to Hutchinson as an at-large representative because of their overall record.
Seven turnovers in the first nine possessions tended to take the air out of the Norsemen sails in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“This was a typical playoff game where we started out real slow and turned the ball over way too much in the first half,” NEO head coach Dustin Grover said. “I don’t think we ever had the same defensive edge that we had throughout the regular season.
“We were actually able to score today, but our defensive intensity is what faltered. “We just couldn’t get consecutive stops on the defensive end. That was my biggest disappointment.”
Two 3-pointers and a layup by Kingsely Sam rallied the Golden Norsemen to a 12-10 deficit with 13:22 left in the first half.
Guard Xavier Miller came off the bench and sank two free throws and a 3-pointer as the Norsemen grabbed a 15-14 lead with 10:26 until intermission.
Over the next six minutes the lead either changed hands or the two teams were tied four times before NEO received a layup by Morris Talbert and a driving layup from Miller to create a 21-18 Golden Norse lead at the 5:02 juncture.
A steal and a dunk by Trojan point guard Joseph Bradshaw along with 3-point field goals by Trejon Jacob and Joshua Holiday forged a 26-26 tie by the Trojans with 2:15 remaining before half.
Three-point field goals by Sam and Miller in the final minute enabled the Norsemen to create a 32-32 tie at intermission.
“Even with 21 turnovers in the first half, we still battled to a tie,” Grover said. “We allowed them to get out of transition and we were never able to control play inside the paint.”
Trailing 68-56 midway through the second half, the Golden Norsemen received a 3-pointer from Sam and a layup and free throw from Arkel Williams and a put back from Gabriel Ferreria to slice the deficit to 68-64 with 1:41 left in the game.
During the final minute of play, two free throws each by Lewis Sneed and Kelly Kemp, along with a layup by Aaron Givens, increased Seminole’s lead to the final 74-68.
Miller led all scorers with 24 points and Williams 18 while Sam contributed 12, Talbert, seven; Ferreira, three, and Jaylon McKoy and Tyjuan Johnson, two each.
The Golden Norsemen connected on 26 of 51, including 7 of 17 from the 3-point area, for 51 percent from the field. NEO hit 9 of 19 for 47 percent from the free throw line.
Givens scored 20 points to lead the Trojans while Jacob added 10.
Seminole hit 24 of 54, including 8 of 18 from the 3-point arc, for 44 percent from the field and 18 of 26 for 69 percent from the free throw line.
Seminole held a 40-26 advantage on the boards. Givens paced the Trojans with 10 rebounds while Sam led NEO with five.