HUTCHINSON, Kan. - Unable to hit at least one of six free throw attempts in the final 25 seconds, the Northeastern A&M Golden Norsemen to a 76-75 loss in an elimination game Friday against Indian Hills, Iowa in the Men's Division I NJCAA National Championship.
Less than 2,000 fans dotted the Hutchinson Sports Arena as coach Dustin Grover's Golden Norse finished 27-9.
Coach Jeff Kidder's Indian Hills Warriors advanced to the fifth place game Saturday afternoon against Eastern Arizona with a 27-9 season mark.
“Free throw shooting has been our achilles heal all year and it picked a bad time to rear it's ugly head,” Grover said. “You really hate to have your season end in such a difficult way.”
Maintaining a 75-74 lead with 28 seconds left on the clock, NEO freshman Chase Elliott missed both ends of a two-shot foul.
Indian Hills point guard Dwight Hardy canned a 15-foot jump shot with just nine seconds remaining in the game to give the Warriors a 76-75 lead.
On NEO's next possession, sophomore point guard
Dominique Gaines was fouled with a mere 0:03.5 showing on the clock. Gaines missed both foul shots.
With just one tick left, Golden Norse sophomore forward Kenneth Clayton stole the Warrior inbounds pass and was fouled by Christopher Vines as the buzzer sounded.
The officiating crew converged on the scorers table and took approximately 10 minutes to determine that the foul came before the final buzzer and that 0:01 should be put on the clock.
Clayton stepped to the free throw line and missed both shots as the Indian Hills bench erupted in jubilation.
“We just couldn't make the shots when we needed them,” Grover said. “But I'm proud of the way our guys played with the heart and determination of a champion.
“We could have folded our tent after falling behind 14-0 in the first five minutes,” Grover said. “But the guys responded and fought their way back into the game.”
Seven straight points by freshman shooting guard Dwight Buycks, along with a five points by veteran wing man Rico Harris and a layup by 6-9 freshman center LaRon Dendy, catapulted the Warriors to a 14-0 lead with 15:41 until halftime.
“We came out extremely flat and played like we didn't want to be here,” Grover said. “So I started subbing just to get some enthusiasm going.”
Clayton scored NEO's first 10 points and Delawn Armwood added a layup to rally the Norsemen to a 16-12 deficit midway through the first half.
Two 3-point field goals and a breakaway layup by freshman point guard Dwight Handy, along with a putback by Buycks, propelled the Warriors to a 26-17 cushion with 6:14 before intermission.
Five straight points by veteran guard Reggie Mathis and layups by Tulio Cobos and Clayton rallied NEO to a 26-26 tie at 4:08 of the opening half.
A field goal and free throw by Buycks and a putback by Vines gave Indian Hills a slim 31-30 lead at halftime.
Trailing 33-30 after LaRon Dendy's tip-in, the Golden Norse grabbed their first lead at 37-33 on five points from Dominique Gaines and four from Cobos.
Six points inside by Cobos and four from Cicero
Gonzaga, along with field goals by Chase Elliott and Mathis, allowed the Norsemen to maintain a 51-44 lead with 12:40 remaining in the game.
Handy (6-2 from the Bronx, N.Y.) hit two 3-pointers and a layup while Buycks sank two field goals to rally the Warriors to a 57-56 deficit with 8:57 showing on the clock.
Two free throws each by Handy and Buycks, along with a layup by Dendy, gave Indian Hills a 62-58 cushion at the 7:34 juncture.
NEO responded with two free throws each by Elliott and Gaines, along with a 3-pointer by Gonzaga, to forge a 65-65 tie with 5:03 left in the game.
A “monster flush” by Armwood, along with two free throws by Gaines and a layup by Mathis, produced a 71-65 Golden Norse lead with 2:49 remaining on the clock.
Handy scored six of the final 11 Warrior points.
Six Golden Norsemen scored in double figures led by Gaines with 15, Mathis 13, Clayton 12, Cobos 11 and Gonzaga and Elliott had 10 each.
NEO sank 27 of 57 (47 percent) from the field, including only 4 of 17 from 3-point range, and 17 of 29 (59 percent) from the free throw line.
Hardy connected on 12 of 20, including 6 of 12 from 3-point range, and 6-of-8 at the free throw line for a game-high 36 points for Indian Hills.
Buycks contributed 23 points.
The Warriors shot 50 percent from the field, hitting 28 of 56, including 8 of 20 from the 3-point arc. They were 12 of 22 (55 percent) at the line.
“Even though they got a lot of points from Hardy and Buycks, our defense was solid most of the night,” Grover said. “We did a great job of screening them off the boards at both ends of the floor.”
Gonzaga grabbed nine rebounds to give NEO a 40-29 advantage on the boards. Hardy led the Warriors with seven rebounds.
Indian Hills, Iowa 76,
Northeastern A&M 75
Indian Hills (27-9) - Hardy 12-20 6-8 36, Buycks 9-20 3-5 23, Harris 2-5 1-1 5, Dendy 2-3 0-1 4, Vines 1-2 1-2 3, Powell 1-1 1-3 3, Windham 1-3 0-2 2, Collier 0-2 0-0 0, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, vuletic 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-56 12-22 76.
Northeastern A&M (27-9) - Gaines 4-13 7-10 15, Mathis 5-10 2-2 13, Clayton 5-8 0-2 12, Cobos 5-9 1-2 11, Gonzaga 4-8 1-4 10, Elliott 2-4 6-9 10, Armwood 2-4 0-0 4, Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Neves 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-57 17-29 75.
Halftime - IHCC 31, NEO 30. 3-point goals - IHCC 8-20 (Hardy 6-12, Buycks 2-7, Vines 0-1), NEO 4-17 (Clayton 2-4, Mathis 1-4, Gonzaga 1-4, Brown 0-1, Gaines