SHAWNEE — Murray State did something that nobody else in Region II was able to do during the 2019-20 season: beat Northeastern A&M twice.
The Aggies pulled out a 69-67 win over NEO on Jan. 20 in Tishomingo, then they pulled out another nail biter Saturday, March 7, claiming a 58-55 victory to earn a trip to the NJCAA national tournament.
“They hit big shots that they needed to hit,” NEO coach Jeremy Jackson said. “We had opportunities and fell a little short.”
The win gave Murray State a sweep of state titles: its women rolled to an 86-69 victory against defending champ Northern Oklahoma-Enid.
The 55 points was a season-low output for the Norse, who had been averaging 86.0 points per game and were riding a 13-game winning streak.
“It was a hard fought game,” Jackson said. “You would think that would play into our hands if it was a low possession game, but they came ready to go. You can’t fault them for anything they did. They did a great job game-planning against us and truth be told, that’s the best way to try to take Rudi out of a game.”
Williams, NEO’s only representative on the all-tournament team, had been averaging 20.9 points per game, but had only 13 in his final game as a Norseman.
The telltale sign of the game was the fact that Murray State had the lead for 32:11 while the Norse were on top just 4:54.
NEO (25-6) rolled into the finals for the second straight year with a 99-68 win over Eastern Oklahoma State on Thursday in the first round, then eliminated Northern Oklahoma-Enid 85-63 Friday.
Their last lead Saturday was 51-49 with 4:35 remaining after a jumper by Williams.
A 9-1 run by the Aggies down the stretch turned the tide.
Samkelo Cele was NEO’s leading scorer with 17 points.
Jadan Graves and Kalil Camara had eight each, Tyren Collins, four; Taylor Gonzalez, three, and Nikita Konstantynovski, two.
Tournament MVP Dyson Plumley had a game-high 18 points for the Aggie.
Jaylan Thomas added 14.
Jackson plans on pounding the pavement recruiting talent for next season.
“That’s where I made my mark doing as an assistant for years, out recruiting and bringing in top-talent guys just like Rudi, just like Igor Ibaka, just like Jeff Newberry,” he said. “That’s what I do. I will give every ounce of energy and effort into finding the best possible players we can so we can be right back in a situation, but just on the other side of the game next year.”