MIAMI — Northeastern A&M men’s coach Jeremy Jackson has said all along that the toughness of the early schedule for his Golden Norse would pay off.
It certainly did Thursday, Jan. 9.
NEO was taken to overtime by Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa after squandering a 10-point lead late in the second half.
But in overtime, Samkelo Cele took a bounce pass from Tyren Collins and hit the game-winning bucket with 16.3 seconds remaining to give NEO a wild 84-82 victory.
“Our scheduling won us that game,” Jackson said. “As far as junior college basketball goes at the Division I level, we have the toughest strength of schedule in the country. That won us that game.
“We were battle tested. We know how to play well together.”
The early part of the Norse schedule included losses to No. 6 Indian Hills, No. 12 Hutchinson and always-tough Coffeyville.
The Norse (10-5 overall and 3-0 in the Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference) had to cope with 6-3 guard Zach McDermott, who almost single-handedly kept the Jets in the game.
McDermott drained eight of 14 3-point attempts — including four in the first six minutes of play — and finished with a game-high 30 points.
“On their very last possession, we face-guarded him, trying to make sure he didn’t get the last shot,” Jackson said.
Instead, it fell to Josh Crutchfield, who unloaded an off-balance trey at the buzzer.
NEO clung to a 62-52 lead with 5:13 remaining, but managed only 10 points the rest of the way in regulation.
It was nip-and-tuck in the extra period with four ties and one lead change.
A free throw by Rance Kendrick with 34.4 seconds left tied the game again at 82.
Four players scored in double figures for the Norsemen, including James Franklin Jr., who netted 24.
Rudi Williams (who fouled out with about 5 minutes left in regulation) and Nikita Konstantynovski had 16 each and Kalil Camara added 10.
Konstantynovski had a double double, also grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds.
“He really played well,” Jackson said.
Others with points for NEO were Cele with eight, Tyren Collins with four and Jadan Graves and Champ Bridges with three each.
Northern (10-8, 1-3) shot 48% from the field (29 of 61), including 14 of 30 (47%) on 3-point attempts.
“We knew they were going to come in and launch (shots); we didn’t expect as many as they did,” Jackson said.
Ikenna Okeke added 14 points and Josh Crutchfield contributed 11 for NOC-Enid.
The Golden Norse travel to Warner to face Connors State College on Monday.