SHAWNEE - Sophomore point guard Dominique Gaines put an exclamation point on his most valuable player moniker by leading the Northeastern A&M Golden Norsemen to a 71-64 victory Sunday evening over Northern Oklahoma College-Enid in the finals of the Men's Division 1 Region II Tournament at the Oklahoma Baptist University Noble Complex.
Coach Dustin Grover's Golden Norsemen won their first regional title since coach Lonnie Spencer's 1990-91 squad. Spencer guided the Norse to 10th place in the National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament and finished with a 25-14 overall record.
“It's been 17 years since we've won a men's regional title at NEO and that's a long time,” Grover said. “But when you consider that NEO and the entire Miami community went through a devastating flood and a ravaging ice storm all within five months of each other, that makes it just that much more special for these kids to win this title.”
The Golden Norsemen carry a 26-7 season mark to the NJCAA national tournament March 18-21 in Hutchinson, Kan. The Norsemen are scheduled to open with the winner of the Kansas regional.
“I didn't think we played too well,” Grover said. “But, we made just enough plays to stay in front of them the entire game.
“Our kids deserve a lot of credit because they kept their heads through most of the game,” Grover said. “They hit the important shots and got it done.”
Coach Greg Shamburg's Northern Jets ran out of fuel after having beaten Seminole State College 88-86 in overtime Saturday night. The Jets finish 18-15 on the year.
Gaines (6-3 from Muskogee) entered the three-day tournament as the Region II MVP in a vote of league coaches.
He then averaged 26.3 points and 7.5 rebounds during the tournament to earn tournament MVP honors.
Teammate freshman guard Lionel Green (6-4 of New Orleans, La.) joined Gaines on the all-tournament team along NOC-Enid's freshmen Jeremy Lay (6-0 of Oklahoma City) and Wayne Runnels (6-6 of Watonga) and Lindsey Hughey (6-2 of Grand Prairie, Texas).
“We did a good job with our post defense,” Grover said. “But, with 19 turnovers, we didn't do a good job of taking care of the basketball.”
A solo free throw by Gaines and two consecutive layups by veteran center Tulio Cobos gave NEO a 5-0 lead in the first three minutes against the Jets.
Ironically, NOC-Enid's first point was a solo free throw by Andre Vaughn with 16:51 left in the first half.
Seven points by Gaines and four by sophomore forward Cicero Gonzaga, along with solo field goals by Green and Chase Elliott, propelled the Norsemen to a 20-10 margin midway through the opening half.
NEO's largest lead of the first half at 33-21 with 4:21 showing on the clock, occurred after a 3-point field goal by Kenneth Clayton and a field goal and free throw by Gonzaga, along with baskets by Reggie Mathis, Green, Elliott, Cobos and a solo free throw by Gaines.
Six straight points by Wayne Runnels, along with three free throws by Jeremy Lay, rallied the Jets to a 33-30 deficit with 38 seconds until halftime.
In spectacular fashion, Gaines fired off an NBA-style 3-point shot at the buzzer that produced a 36-30 lead for NEO at intermission.
Outscoring the Jets 11-8 in the first six minutes of the second half, the Golden Norse maintained a 47-38 margin. The Gaines-Green duo accounted for all NEO points during the run.
Another 12-8 outburst ignited by a 3-pointer from Gaines created NEO's largest lead of the game at 59-46 with 10 minutes left in the game. Five points by Gaines and four by Cobos, along with a basket by Delawn Armwood and a free throw by Gonzaga, spark the spurt.
Consecutive field goals by Vaughn, Runnels and Lay along with two free throws by Ty Pace pulled the Jets to a 59-54 deficit with 6:16 remaining in the game.
Three straight free throws by Gaines along with a tip-in and a solo free throw by Cobos gave the Golden Norse a 65-60 lead with 1:43 left on the clock.
Over the final minute Mathis sank three free throws and Gaines added two freebies along with one by Clayton to close out the scoring.
Gaines connected on 9 of 19, including 3 of 6 3-pointers, and 10 of 17 free throws to lead all scorers with 31 points. Green was the only other Norseman in double figures with 10 points.
The Golden Norsemen hit 23 of 55 (42 percent) from the field, including 4 of 12 from 3-point range, and 21 of 39 (54 percent) at the free throw line.
Lay tallied 21 points to lead the Jets while Runnels contributed 20.
NOC-Enid sank 24 of 58 (41 percent), including only 2 of 14 from the 3-point arch, and 14 of 20 for 70 percent at the line.
Green grabbed 10 rebounds to give NEO a 48-28 advantage on the boards. Runnels, Vaughn and Pace each pulled down five rebounds each to lead the Jets.
Gaines scored 20 of his game-high 25 points in the second half to lead the Golden Norsemen to an 86-82 upset over 14th-ranked Arkansas-Fort Smith in Saturday night's semifinal game.
“This was a good win for us because they are such a talented basketball team,” Grover said. “But we outscored them 22-6 at the free throw line which proved to be the difference.”
Green scored 10 points and Cobos contributed nine as the Golden Norse built a 38-30 halftime lead.
NEO's defense limited the Lions to a mere 33 percent from the field (13 of 39) in the first game.
Playing almost the entire second half with four personal fouls, Gaines helped NEO construct their largest lead at 65-49 with 7:36 left in the game.
Along with Gaines' 25 points, the Norsemen received 18 from Cobos, 13 from Gonzaga and 12 from Green.
Dominique Johnson led the Lions (28-4) with 16 points while Jenirro Bush added 15.
Coach Louis Whorton's UAFS Lady Lions earned their fourth women's Division I Region II crown in the past five years with a 78-67 victory over Connors State College in Sunday's first game.
The second-ranked Lady Lions carry a 31-1 record to the NJCAA national tournament, March 18-21, in Salina, Kan.
NEO Lady Norse freshman guard Megan Fraley (5-6 of Adair) was named to the all-tournament team. The Lady Norse were defeated by UAFS 98-80 in Saturday's semifinals.
Northeastern A&M 71,
Northern Oklahoma-Enid 64
Northeastern A&M (26-6) - Gaines 9-19 10-17 31, Green 4-5 2-4 10, Cobos 3-6 1-2 7, Gonzaga 3-8 1-2 7, Elliott 1-3 3-6 5, Mathis 1-7 3-6 5, Clayton 1-4 1-2 4, Armwood 1-2 0-0 2, Neves 0-1 0-0 Totals 23-55 21-39 71.
Northern-Enid (18-15) - J. Lay 6-15 7-8 21, Runnels 8-15 4-4 20, Vaughn 4-9 1-2 9, Pace 3-6 2-4 8, Mchenry 2-6 0-0 4, Burleson 1-2 0-0 2, Brewer 0-3 0-2 0, A. Lay 0-0 0-0 0, Butts 0-1 0-0 0, Coakley 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-58 14-20 64.
Halftime - NEO 36, NOC-Enid 32. 3-point goals - NEO 4-12 (Gaines 3-6, Clayton 1-2, Gonzaga 0-1, Armwood 0-1, Mathis 0-2), NOC-Enid 2-14 (J. Lay 2-6, Burleson 0-1,Butts 0-1, Mchenry 0-2, Runnels 0-2, Vaughn 0-2). Rebounds - NEO 48 (Green 10), NOC-Enid 28 (Runnels 5, Vaughn