The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

February 19, 2014

NOC Enid, Neal ready for Carl Albert rematch

ENID, Okla. — Getting up for a team with a 2-12 conference and 3-20 overall record can be difficult for a team that is 10-5 in conference and 19-6 overall.

But it won’t be for Northern Oklahoma College Enid freshman point guard Cornell Neal and his teammates tonight when they host Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference rival Carl Albert at 8 in the second half of a women’s-men’s basketball doubleheader at the Mabee Center.

The Vikings came back from a 10-point deficit in the last 40 seconds on Jan. 16 to beat the Jets 99-91 in overtime.

“That was a very hard loss for us to take,’’ Neal said. “We didn’t come out ready to play, but we’re going to be ready to play tomorrow for our homecoming.’’

The Jets might have learned a valuable lesson in the loss. They have gone 7-1 since, with four straight wins.

“We’re going to come out and take care of business, get this win and keep it moving,’’ Neal said.

Neal injured his knee in practice after the first Carl Albert game and sat out six games before returning against Redlands last Saturday.

He tried to practice a week later and couldn’t even run.

“I was real nervous,’’ Neal said. “I was hurting. I was afraid I wouldn’t able to play the rest of the season.’’

Neal has returned to the lineup despite still experiencing some pain.

Neal learned that toughness at traditionally tough Midwest City, where he played on three state runner-up teams with NOC Enid teammate Daryck Jones.

“Winning and toughness, that’s what we’re (Midwest City) are all about,” Neal said. “Midwest City is all about getting to the championship game and the big stage. You have to be tough enough to get there.’’

He sees the same attitude with his new team.

“Our chemistry is great as a team,” he said. “We’re listening to our coaches who are getting us in the right positions. We’re getting better every day. Daryck and I have a great chemistry from playing four years together. We try to bring it to the rest of our teammates.’’

Neal doubled as the Bombers’ quarterback in high school. That gives him the dual mentality of a take charge guy, and he plays as such with the Jets, averaging 10.6 points per game, hitting 46.2 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from three-point and 65 percent from the line.

But, he’s a passer first. He’s averaging 6.6 assists and only 2.5 turnovers. He has 1.8 steals per game.

While he played for an elite high school program, it still was a big step up to junior college. And the adjustment didn’t come without some difficulties. The Jets lost their first three conference games.

“It’s a pretty fast game,’’ Neal said. “Coach (Greg Shamburg) was telling us that, but we weren’t listening to him at first. We see now that it’s a whole different level. We started a little lazy, but now we have a chance at first place.’’

Neal chose NOC Enid over Northeastern A&M, Redlands and some Division II schools. He had some football offers, but always preferred basketball.

“Basketball is always my first love,” he said. “I miss football a little, but not too much. The more I play basketball, the less I miss football.’’

Neal’s goal is to go Division I in two years.

“I think I have a chance to do that if I keep working hard and get better and better,’’ he said. “I’m a gym rat. We spend a lot of time with my teammates here. When we go to the gym, we go to work.’’

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