The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

March 16, 2014

NEO to start tourney play

Northeastern A&M’s Golden Norsemen men’s basketball team enters today’s Division I NJCAA Tournament with momentum on its side.

The No. 17 seeded Golden Norse are on a five-game winning streak as they open against No. 16 New Mexico Junior College at 10 a.m. today in the Hutchinson (Kan.) Sports Arena.

After winning the Region 2 Tournament on March 8 with a 91-85 victory over Redlands Community College in Shawnee, coach Dustin Grover’s Norsemen enter the six-day single elimination tournament with a 22-10 season record.

NEO will be making its eighth appearance in the tournament and its first since the 2007-08 season when the Norse finished ninth in Grover’s third season as head coach. The Golden Norse are 16-13 overall in their previous seven trips to Hutchinson.

Even though the two teams have not faced each other, the Thunderbirds are led by sophomore shooting guard Jeff Newberry (6-2 from Atlanta, Ga.). Newberry may sound familiar because he spent his freshman season starting in the Golden Norseman back-court.

“Jeff has had a solid year for them,” Grover said. “After he transferred there, Jeff has signed to play at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater next year.”

Starting in 30 games, Newberry leads the T-Birds with a 12.8 scoring average while recording 111 assists and 36 steals.

During his freshman season, Newberry led NEO in scoring with a 14.8 average with 125 assists and 46 steals.

“From all we can tell, we matchup with them pretty well,” Grover said. “The reason I say that is I think we have a better interior game overall, and I think they will struggle against our zone because they haven’t played very well all year against the zone.

“Their region doesn’t play a lot of zone,” Grover said. “We’ve looked at all of their personnel and we know some of their tendencies, but you can only get so much of it off video.”

Freshman post Chris Boucher (6-10, from Ontario, Canada) is the only other Thunderbird to average in double figures with a 12.1 scoring mark. He also averages 6.6 rebounds per game.

Averaging 76.8 points per game, the Golden Norsemen feature freshman Erikk Wright Jr. and sophomores Terrance Clemens and Christian Leach in the back-court with veteran Ja’mill Powell and freshman Igor Ibaka in the paint.

Leach (6-4, from Washington, D.C.) leads the Norsemen with a 15.8 scoring average with 104 assists and 55 steals while grabbing 3.9 rebounds per game.

Powell (6-7, from Bridgeport, Conn.), the most valuable player of the regional tournament, is averaging 15.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

Ibaka (6-9, from the Republic of the Congo) leads NEO with a 9.8 rebounding mark while scoring 13.8 points per game and recording 35 blocked shots. Because of the NJCAA rule concerning age limits, the 22-year old Ibaka, who is the younger brother of Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, may not be able to return to NEO next season.

“According to the NJCAA rule, a player that turns 22 after Aug. 1, is not eligible to play more than one year,” Grover said. “We are going to file an appeal, but at this point we just don’t know his status.”

The winner of the first-round game will face No. 1 seed Indian Hills, Iowa (31-2) at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

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