SHAWNEE — Connors State College defeated the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College Golden Norsemen, 73-63, Saturday, March 10, to successfully defend its Men’s Division I Region II championship in the Noble Complex at Oklahoma Baptist University.

While snapping a nine-game winning streak, the No. 3 seed Golden Norsemen finish the season with a 22-9 record.

Ranked No. 13 in the nation and the No. 1 seed, the Connors State Cowboys extended their winning streak to seven games and are 29-3 on the year.

Connors will travel to the Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Kansas, March 19-24, to compete in the Men’s Division I National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament.

“They had some really good players step up and hit some key shots with

less than three minutes left in the game,” Golden Norse head coach Dustin Grover said. “(Mason) Jones and (Darius) Roy made really big plays at the right time after we had fought back to a four-point deficit (63-59). “The amount of pride that I have in this team because of the fact that they were able to come back from an 18-point situation and pull it that close to give us a great opportunity to win the game,” Grover said. “This is a really good group of kids and they fought hard from start to finish.”

Behind a 12-point performance by Jones, along with six points from

Bishop Collier and five points each by Roy and Ra’shawn Langston, the Cowboys opened up a 28-11 lead through the first 10 minutes of the opening half.

NEO responded with five points from Tyjuan Johnson and four points each by Ravel Moody and Jeremiah Morris to trail by a 35-23 margin at halftime.

The Cowboys, who led for a total of 38:49 the entire game, started the second half relying on the pinpoint long-range shooting of Jones from 3-point range. The 6-4 freshman guard canned five 3-pointers in the second half as Connors constructed a 51-33 cushion at the 12:14 juncture.

“Big time players (like Jones) will make those kinds of shots in pressure situations,” Grover said. “I think he is the best player in the region.”

Freshman guard Alex Taylor came off the NEO bench to score 12 points and fuel the Golden Norse rally.

After a scoreless first half, Valentin Van Putten stepped up with 14 points to become NEO’s leading scorer and pull the Norsemen to a 63-59 deficit with 2:46 left in the game.

Three-point field goals by both Langston and Terrance Jones enabled the Cowboys to increase the lead to 69-59 with less than a minute showing on the clock.

“We showed a lot of character coming back in the second half,” Grover said. “But we just couldn’t get over the hump against a very good team.”

Along with Van Putten’s 14 points, NEO received 12 from Taylor and 11 from Johnson.

The Norsemen also picked up six each from David Thornton, Moody and Cedric Ward, and four from Morris and Thais Montgomery.

NEO outscored Connors 28-20 in the paint, 18-4 on second-chance shots and 22-8 from the bench.

The Cowboys countered with a 22-9 advantage in points off turnovers.

The Golden Norsemen hit 26 of 64, including 6 of 22 from 3-point range, for 41 percent from the field and 5 of 10 from the free throw line.

Mason Jones connected on 7 of 9 attempts from 2-point range and 5 of 8 from the 3-point area, along with 2-of-2 free throws, for a game-high 31 points.

Roy contributed 12 and Langston tallied 10 for Connors.

The Cowboys sank 27 of 63, including 10 of 21 from the 3-point arc, for 43 percent from the field and 9 of 12 for 75 percent at the charity stripe.

Van Putten collected 10 rebounds to give NEO a 53-37 advantage on the boards. Coulter led Connors with 11 rebounds.

Selected most valuable player of the tournament, Mason Jones and Langston represented the Cowboys on the all-tournament team along with Van Putten, Tony Hall of NOC-Enid and Trevion Lamar of NOC-Tonkawa.