MIAMI — The Northeastern Oklahoma A&M men’s basketball team is headed to The Tournament after all.
The Golden Norse, who suffered a 69-67 loss to Murray State College in the NJCAA Region II men’s tournament championship game, has been added to the field for the eTeamSponsor Division I Men’s Basketball Championship in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Monroe (New York) College, which had been the tournament’s 22nd seed, is unable to travel because of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
JucoRecruiting.com broke the story earlier Wednesday night via Twitter and Norse coach Jeremy Jackson confirmed it a short time later.
“Monroe is unable to travel, therefore they are putting us in it,” Jackson said Wednesday night rushing back from a recruiting trip. “We turned around and will probably be back home, I don’t know, 2 in the morning. We were in between Memphis and Nashville (when he learned the news). We had already done our stop in Memphis, saw some kids and were headed to Nashville. We got the call, got right back in the car and headed west.”
Jackson admitted he was stunned when he got the call.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I was so happy. I just said it’s going to be an amazing story after we win it all.”
Monroe announced on its website that on campus classes had been cancelled effective Wednesday afternoon.
The website post said while there had been no reported cases on the New Rochelle, New York, campus, Monroe County officials said 32 individuals were in self-quarantine as of Monday morning.
With the change, Region II now will have three teams in the field.
The Norse will be the tournament’s No. 22 seed, playing 11th-seeded Colby (Kansas) Community College in the first round at noon Tuesday, March 17.
Murray will be in the game just before NEO-Colby, facing Cowley (Kansas) Community College at 10 a.m.
Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa is the No. 17 seed and plays 16th-seeded Moberly Area Community College at 10 a.m. Monday, March 16.
The Mavericks, which had lost to Murray 79-73 in the Region II semifinals, still was able to earn an at-large bid for the tournament despite the fact that NEO had entered Region II play as the No. 1 seed.
There are 16 automatic bids, earned by regional champions, as well as eight at-large bids.
Colby, 27-5 and ranked 10th in the final regular season NJCAA poll, was an at-large qualifier after losing 98-97 to Butler (Kansas) Community College in the Region 16 final.
The NJCAA announced Wednesday that the men’s Division I tournament as well as the women’s Division I tournament at Lubbock, Texas, and the DII men’s championship in Danville, Illinois, will operate as scheduled until further notice.
All banquet, community service, and all non-essential engagement events, including media access to student-athletes and teams that occur at each of the championship sites have been cancelled.
No spectators will be allowed at the DIII women’s tournament in Rockford, Illinois and the Division II women’s championship in Port Huron, Michigan, has limited public events to no more than 100 spectators — which includes student-athletes, coaches, team personnel and necessary college administrators.
The NBA became the first major sports league to suspend play following Wednesday’s schedule.
The Utah at Oklahoma City game was called off because Utah’s Rudy Gobert reportedly tested positive.
New Orleans at Sacramento also was postponed.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said earlier Wednesday that only essential staff and limited family will be allowed to attend NCAA tournaments on all levels.
That includes Missouri Southern State University, which is to play in the Division II regional in Marysville, Missouri, Saturday.
“Obviously it's a concern, but as long as they hold true to their word and keep us in it — if they play it a month and a half from now, I will be ready to go again then, too,” Jackson said.
This will be the second straight year the Norsemen (25-7) will be playing in the national tournament.
A 10-0 run late in the second half helped Moberly (Missouri) Area Community College shake NEO and claim an 82-73 win in the first round last year.
NEO rolled into the Region II finals for the second straight year with a 99-68 win over Eastern Oklahoma State on Thursday, March 5, in the first round, then eliminated Northern Oklahoma-Enid 85-63 Friday, March 6.
NEO’s last lead in Saturday’s title game was 51-49 with 4:35 remaining after a jumper by Rudi Williams.
But a 9-1 run by the Aggies down the stretch turned the tide.
Samkelo Cele was NEO’s leading scorer with 17 points.