MIAMI — When the Miami boys tackle the Green Country Defenders in a first-round Boys Gold game Thursday, Jan. 18, this will be the 24th time Rusty Mercer has coached a team in the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M High School Basketball Tournament.

Mercer was the boys and girls basketball coach at Welch from 1994-97, then became girls’ coach at Miami the following season.

He transitioned to the boys’ program in 2000.

Mercer likes the tournament since it’s a playoff-like three games in three days run.

“It’s quite a challenge,” he said. “I always think it simulates playoff-type prep with both the strength of the bracket and the three consecutive days.”

The Wardogs, who have won three of their last four, face Green Country at 7:30 p.m. at the Miami Activity Center.

“It’s loaded, but we’re looking forward to it,” Mercer said. “It makes you better and gives you an assessment of what is good and what needs attention heading into the final three weeks and playoffs.”

The Wardogs have won two of the three meetings with Green Country, including a 51-37 decision in the Boys Gold third-place game in last year’s tournament.

They split games in the 2016 tournament. The Defenders logged a 62-45 decision in the Boys Gold seventh-place game at NEO.

Then the following Saturday, Colt Summers, Kameron Jinks and Alec Hayward combined for 71 points in a 77-69 overtime decision a week later.

Jinks had a put back at the horn to force the game into overtime.

“We have played well against them and hope that remains the same,” Mercer said.

The 2017-18 Green Country boys, coached by Clay Wilson and Shawn Lebar, are 7-11.

Senior Marshall Debar is a key performer for the Defenders, averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds a game.

Miami’s girls dropped to 0-11 with a 54-32 loss at Wagoner on Friday, Jan. 12.

The Lady Wardogs have been paired against 4A No. 17 Roland at 6 p.m. at the Miami Activity Center in a first-round Girls Gold game.

The bracket also includes defending champ Edmond North, 5A No. 11 Coweta, 4A No. 19 Grove, Tulsa Rogers and the Green Country Defenders.

Other first-round games include Grove vs. Defenders, 1:30 p.m. at the NEO Field House; Rogers vs. Coweta at 4:30 p.m. at the MAC, and North vs. McLain, 9 p.m. at the Glen Wolfe Student Activity Center.

The tournament tips off at 10:30 a.m. Thursday and continues through the final round of games at 9 p.m. Saturday.

Defending champs returning are the Welch, Fairland girls and Edmond North girls and Tulsa McLain and Nowata boys.

Daily tickets are $9 for adults and $8 for students and senior citizens.

A tournament pass, good for all 72 games at all three sites, is $20.

The tournament’s major sponsor is American Bus Sales of Collinsville.

The City of Miami, Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and Miami News-Record also are sponsors.