Completing a sweep of the Women’s Division I Region II Tournament Saturday, the No. 1 seed Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (NEO) Lady Norse won their third straight championship with a 76-55 victory over No. 2 seed Northern Oklahoma College-Enid in the Oklahoma Baptist University Noble Complex. NEO begins play in the Women’s Division I National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament, March 19-24, at Lubbock (Texas) Christian College with a 27-4 record. NEO will take on 20th seeded Trinity Valley after earning the number 13 seed. “I knew coming into this game that if we could take away their ability to shoot 3-point shots, then it would be our game,” Lady Norse head coach Jim Rowland said. “We didn’t do a very good job of that in the first half because they shot 11 times from behind the arch, but only made one. “So at halftime, I told our team that we weren’t scrambling enough and we were giving up way too many second shots,” Rowland said. “Our team responded defensively in the last two quarters like they have all season.”
While winning their ninth straight game in the regional tournament, the Lady Norse extended their current winning streak to 18 games. Ranked No. 21 in the NJCAA national poll, the Lady Norse were a perfect 16-0 during play in the Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference. “Once again, our defense started our offense which has been the backbone of this team all season,” Rowland said. “Then, we stepped up and hit some big shots that kept them from climbing back into the game. “Megan Jackson, Mikayla Shulanberger and Eneritz Larranga hit some big baskets,” Rowland said. “Of course, I could talk about Bethy (Mununga) all night long, but when it comes down to hitting big shots, these other girls really came through.”
NEO’s defensive effort was omnipresent from the opening tip-off as the Lady Jets were held to eight points during the first quarter. NOC-Enid (27-6) was limited to 21 percent (4-of-19) from the field in the first 10 minutes. Relying on Munuga’s shooting and rebounding ability, the Lady Norse received eight points and four rebounds from her to construct a 20-8 cushion entering the second quarter. Neither team lit up the scoreboard during the second quarter as the Lady Jets outscored the Lady Norse 11-10 and trailed 30-19 at intermission. Andreah Pierce scored seven points for NOC-Enid in the quarter. “They got a couple of back-door plays on us, but I think we frustrated them a lot because they couldn’t do what they wanted,” Rowland said. “They love to drive to the rim and they love to shoot a lot of 3’s, but our defense wouldn’t allow it.”
During the third quarter, NEO opened up a 51-35 margin as Shulanberger and Jackson combined for two 3-pointers each and Mununga contributed seven points. A play indicative of NEO’s defensive intensity was the recording of three straight blocked shots by Jackson, Mununga and Mariam Gnanou on one play. Larranga paced the Lady Norse offense in the fourth quarter with eight of her 13 total points as NEO held a 25-20 advantage going down the stretch. Munuga (most valuable player of the tournament) led all scorers with 23 total points and 13 rebounds. She also recorded six assists, five steals and three blocked shots. Jackson contributed 16 points to the Lady Norse offense while Schulanberger added 13, Larranga 13, Gnanou 9 and Lidia Guiral 2.
The Lady Norse connected on 28 of 55, including 7 of 17 from the 3-point area, for 51 percent from the field and 13 of 25 for 52 percent at the free throw line. Andreah Pierce paced the lady Jets with 20 total points and seven rebounds. Taylor Sylvester contributed 8, Kammille Gruber 7, Tanara Combs 6, Euresia Brown 6, Mckenna Pulley 4 and Alexis Large 4. NOC-Enid hit 22 of 67, including 4 of 18 from 3-point range, for 33 percent from the field. The Lady Jets sank 7 of 10 at the free throw line. NEO held a 41-38 margin on the boards as Gnanou also collected 13 boards for the Lady Norse. Gnanou tied an NEO single-game school record with 9 blocked shots. Hatty Naweshi established the record against Northern College-Tonkawa on March 2, 2016. Joining Mununga on the all-tournament team were Gnanou, Andreah Pierce of NOC-Enid, Kaci Richardson of Seminole and Sabela Reigosa of Northern-Tonkawa.