MIAMI — Clutch free throw shooting over the final eight minutes carried the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College Golden Norsemen to a 77-71 upset over Connors State College Tuesday, Nov. 28, in front of as boisterous crowd at the NEO Field House.
Winners of seven of their last nine games, the Golden Norse opened play in the Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference against the reigning champions.
With the loss, the Connors Cowboys are 0-1 in the conference and 9-1 on the year.
The win allows the Norsemen to carry a 1-0 conference record and a 9-3 season mark to Piper Foster Field House, Thursday, Nov. 30, for a 7:30 p.m. league showdown with Northern Oklahoma College-Tonkawa. The Mavericks were 7-3 overall prior to Tuesday’s long trip to Altus for an OCAC game with Western State College.
“I think Northern-Tonkawa is one of the best teams in our league,” Golden Norse head coach Dustin Grover said. “There’s us, Connors, both Northerns (Tonkawa and Enid) and Seminole.
“These teams are all alike and are in the top echelon of our conference,” Grover said. “This game tonight could have gone either way. That’s how close we are.
“Both teams played eight guys that were going at it on both ends of the floor all night,” Grover said. “We only played the same five guys down the stretch and they never gave in and they never quit.”
During the opening 20 minutes, the Cowboys relied on the shooting of guards Ra’Shawn Langston and Mason Jones to control the game at the offensive end. Langston scored 14 of his game-high 26 points while Jones contributed nine points to construct a 37-28 cushion at intermission.
“They really outplayed us in the first half,” Grover said. “They executed their game plan better than we did.”
While free throw shooting didn’t seem to be NEO’s forte’ in the first half — only 2 out of 5 attempts — the charity stripe became the Golden Norsemen’s best friend during the second half.
“We came out and played extremely well in the second half,” Grover said. “I thought they just lost their composure as a team for about five to seven minutes.
“It wasn’t just all the talking and stuff, I thought they took some bad shots and they stopped getting the ball to the basket,” Grover said. “I thought that was the separation point for us.”
During that span, two Connors players received technical fouls. Sophomore forwards Zaph Bobb and Bishop Coulter were levied technical fouls for over-aggressive play.
Over the final nine minutes, NEO went 13 of 25 from the line while Connors managed only 3 of 8 in points at the stripe.
“That’s maturity stuff getting to the free throw line,” Grover said. “This was an exciting game and I think our guys know now that they can win at this level.
Freshman guard Kyle Lukasiewicz scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half while Dylan Van Eyck contributed nine, Valentine Van Putten added eight and both Jeremiah Morris and Tyjuan Johnson sank six points each.
Morris led the Golden Norse with 15 points while Van Eyck scored 14, Lukasiewicz 13, Ravel Moody 11, Van Putten 10, Johnson 6, David Thornton 5 and Josh Humphries 3.
Along with Langston’s 26 points, the Cowboys received 13 points each from Mason Jones and Darius Ray, Coulter 10, Terrance Jones 5, A.J. Cockrell 2 and Bobb 2.
On the night, the Golden Norsemen made 15 of 29 free throws for 52 percent compared to only 4 of 10 for 40 percent by the Cowboys.
“Connors is annually one of the best rebounding teams in the league,” Grover said. “So, I thought we did pretty well considering that fact.
“I thought when they went on their first half run, we were taking some bad shots,” Grover said. “About 30 seconds before halftime, we started showing some cracks. It was like we were trying to hard not to make a mistake.
“Overall, I’m very pleased with the fact that we at least competed very hard from the opening tipoff,” Grover said.