MIAMI — Although this group hasn’t played in the NJCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship, Northeastern A&M coach Jeremy Jackson hopes the discipline of a core group of talented sophomores will be the X Factor.
Ravel Moody, Kyle Lukasiewicz, Dylan Van Eyck and Valentin Van Putten have been the glue that helped the Golden Norsemen win 27 games and nail down the school’s 12th trip to the national tournament, which begins Monday, March 18 in Hutchinson, Kansas.
NEO’s game will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 19 against 14th seeded Moberly (Missouri) Area Community College.
The No. 19-seed Norse are trying to take the tournament opener like any other game, “but I know with all the hoopla involved, it could be hard,” Jackson said. “There can be a lot of distractions there at Hutch. The two times I’ve been as an assistant (2014 and 2016) that’s always a concern going in, but we do have a disciplined group of sophomores who lead this team every day.
“We have a great group of young men who are determined to go play NEO basketball next week.”
The Golden Norse punched their ticket to the national tournament on Saturday, March 9 when Rudi Williams nailed a jumper from the right elbow with 1.6 seconds remaining to give them a 67-65 victory over Connors State College in the Region 2 final at Shawnee.
“I am so excited to be heading to the national tournament for my players, my staff, the community and for NEO,” said Jackson, who took over when Dustin Grover stepped down to become assistant vice president for academic affairs at the college. “We truly are honored to go represent NEO and Region 2 at the national tournament.”
Moody was named the most valuable player of the Region 2 tournament.
Moody and Lukasiewicz are from the Denver area, Moody graduating from Thomas Jefferson High while Lukasiewicz prepped at Arapahoe High in Centennial.
Moody is NEO’s leading scorer at 13.8 points per game. He’s also averaging 7.4 rebounds.
Lukasiewicz is averaging 13.1 points and 3.4 rebounds.
Van Eyck, from Boskoop, Netherlands, who represented his country in the Division B FIBA (International Basketball Federation) U20 European Championship at Sofia, Bulgaria, in July, contributes 9.9 points and a team-best 9.3 rebounds per game.
Williams, a freshman from Hamilton, Ontario, is averaging 12.9 points per game with 8.6 assists.
This will be the first NEO-Moberly meeting since 2012, when the Greyhounds claimed a 98-84 win at Moberly.
Jackson said the Hounds are a fast-paced team that scores a lot of points and launches a lots of 3-point goals.
Moberly, which beat Missouri State-West Plains 98-82 for the Region 16 title then Triton (Illinois) College 96-92 for the District IV championship, is averaging 95.8 points a game.
“They are very well coached team by Pat Smith and they have a really talented scorer in Alonzo Verge who has signed with Arizona State,” Jackson said.
Verge had 42 points in the win over Triton and is averaging 31.0 on the season, shooting 49.4 percent from the field.
Also scoring in double figures are Sean Miller-Moore, a 6-5 sophomore guard from Toronto (18.7) and Tahj Small, a 6-5 freshman guard from Durham, North Carolina (14.4).
Smith, a member of the NJCAA Basketball Coaches Association hall of fame, has guided the Greyhounds to three of their 28 national tournament appearances.
“I was speaking with Larry Gipson this morning (Wednesday) and he mentioned that Moberly is who we played in ’89 when we won the national title,” Jackson said. “So hopefully this is a great sign for the Norsemen.”
Gipson, who was inducted into the NEO Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010, is one of only two head coaches who have led teams to a national championship on two different college basketball levels: NEO and Northeastern State in Tahlequah.
The NEO-Moberly winner moves on to face No. 3 seed and three-time national champion Vincennes (Indiana) University at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20.
The Trailblazers, with a tournament-best 30-2 record, are one of eight seeded teams that have drawn first-round byes.
Jackson said the Norsemen would head to Hutchinson at 8 a.m. Sunday.