By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
NOC Enid will be taking a bit of a different mindset into the Region 2 basketball tournament this week at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee.
The Jets (21-9) who face Western (20-10) in a 3 p.m. quarterfinal today, will reach the national tournament if they reach the championship round.
This season Region 2 has the rotating at-large berth, meaning both finalists will go to the nationals in Hutchinson, Kan., March 18-23.
That’s good news for a team that has lost in the finals three of the last five years.
“There’s no question the tournament will have a different feeling,’’ said Jets coach Greg Shamburg. “Everybody feels now if they win two games, they can get in. We’ll see how it plays out. I hope we can play well enough to get that opportunity.’’
NOC Enid won four of its last five regular season games, including an 85-75 win over Western on Feb. 18 at the Mabee Center.
“I think we are playing some of our best basketball now,’’ Shamburg said. “This is the time of year you have to step up and start making plays. We have started doing that.
“Again, you’ve got to be good, and you’ve got to be lucky and make some shots. Western is playing well, too (having won nine of its last 11).’’
NOC Enid got a little lucky in a come-from-behind 67-66 win at Western Jan. 14 when Dalen Qualls made a four-point play with two seconds remaining.
The Jets had to rally to beat the Pioneers 85-75 in Enid on Feb. 18.
Qualls had 45 points in the two games, followed by Jeremy Espinoza with 29 and Connor Brooks, who had 23.
Western was paced by Jedarian Jackson with 44 points and Stirling Thomas with 30. Thomas is averaging 20.2 points per game, followed by Dil’John Allen-Jordan (14.5) and Jackson (13.5).
The Pioneers will be playing their fourth game in a six-day period, including a 106-83 win over Arkansas Baptist in the play-in game Monday in Altus.
The Jets played twice over that period.
“That’s going to be a big advantage for us,’’ Shamburg. “Western is going to be pretty good. They have two really fine guards we have to stop.’’
The winner will face the Connors (22-7)-Seminole (10-18) winner at 1 p.m. Friday.
Connors was the lone team to have swept the Jets this season, winning at Enid, 85-71 and at Warner, 85-77.
“That (previous games) doesn’t mean a lot right now,’’ Shamburg said. “I felt we should have beaten them over there. If I thought they were better than us, I would be more concerned. They are not the team I would pick to play in the semifinals, but it’s not that big of an issue.’’
Shamburg said having a day between games will help the Jets because of their depth.
The other first-round games pit No. 1 seed NOC Tonkawa (27-3) against Eastern (16-15) at 6 and Murray State (15-13) and Northeastern A&M (17-13) at 1.
“There’s not that much difference between No. 1 and No. 6,’’ Shamburg said. “It only takes a couple of shots or a few missed rebounds or somebody tightening up and not making free throws.’’
Actually, Shamburg is grateful No. 1 seed NOC Tonkawa is on a different side of the bracket. He is close friends with Mavericks coach Brett Wieberg, whom he once coached with.
“We didn’t want to knock each other out,’’ Shamburg said. “There’s no pressure in the championship game this year like there’s been in the past.’’
Four of the Jets starters — Qualls (17.2), Espinoza (15.4), Brooks (13.1) and Philip Brown (5.4), and sixth-man Rex Farmer (5.7), played in last year’s tournament. The Jets lost to Eastern 91-86 in the finals.
“We have played well in the tournament before,’’ Shamburg said. “I expect us to be ready to go. Our experience helps, but it’s difficult to predict anything. You just have to go play.’’
The key could be on freshmen guards David Lewis III (3.1), Marquavius Williams (4.3) and John Lazenby III (2.0), who have had to play more than expected this season. Andreas Bigum (3.2) completes the rotation.
“We’ll see how they respond in the regional tournament,’’ Shamburg said. “We’ll see who shows up and makes a shot.’’
NOC Enid was the preseason choice to win the Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference. The Jets finished third.
“It’s hard to complain about being 21-9 and in third,’’ Shamburg said. “This league is lot better than it has been. The main thing now is playing well in the tournament.
“We’re glad it’s here. It’s been a grind from August until now. This is the fun part of the season. The kids have aspirations to win it. We’ve got guys (sophomores) who are looking for places (four-year universities) to go.’’
All games can be heard on KCRC Radio (1390 AM).