By Wayne Bunch
HUTCHINSON, Kan. – With 4.3 seconds left, Connors State’s Josh Cameron was whistled for stepping out of bounds and ending the Cowboys’ season in a 70-66 to Motlow State (Tenn.) at the National Junior College Association national championship tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., on Tuesday.
In appeared that Motlow State’s Kerrell Davis pushed Cameron in the back, forcing him out of bounds, but the officials saw it another way.
The non-call denied the Cowboys an attempt to tie or win the game, trailing 68-66 as Motlow held off the Cowboys in the opening round at the Sports Arena.
Trailing by the two points, Connors coach Bill Muse called a timeout and drew up a play to tie or win the game.
“We set up a play to try and get Josh (Cameron) the ball so he could either drive the basket or a shot, or get to the foul line to tie the game up,” said Muse. “Unfortunately, they (official) called him for stepping on the sideline.”
When Cameron was asked if he was pushed he said, “Yes, I think I did get pushed, but it didn’t determine the game.”
Connors closes the season 24-9 as Motlow (26-3) advances to the quarterfinals against Central Florida (30-3) tonight.
“I thought this was an extremely competitive game for the first round,” said Muse. “It was a well-matched game and couldn’t get any closer.
“Unfortunately for us, they made the plays and we didn’t. We didn’t take advantage of the lead when we had it. We missed a couple of free throws down the stretch and we took some quick shots.”
The Cowboys shot only 29.5 percent (18-of-61) from the field with Jamarcus Weatherspoon leading the attack with 14 points, followed by Denell Henderson’s 13, Cameron’s 12 and Willie Atwood’s 10.
“We really didn’t shoot the ball very well,” said Muse. “We missed opportunities at the foul line.”
Connors missed some critical free throws down the stretch as they finished 24-of-31 from the charity stripe.
The Bucks came out hot from behind the arc in the first half connecting on six of 19 3-pointers and finished with nine in the game. Motlow held a one-point lead at the half 32-31, as they shot 39 percent for the game (25-of-64) from the field and was 11 of 13 at the free throw line.
“Motlow shot the ball very well,” said Muse. “We knew they could shoot coming into the game. They hit some threes in the first half and we gave up 27 points on 3-point shots. We gave up too many transition baskets. Defensively that was the biggest disappointment.”
The game was tied 14 times, with 12 lead changes and the largest lead of the game was seven points, 32-25 Motlow, at the 2:25 mark of the first half.
Connors’ largest lead of the game was five points, 9-4 at the 14:14 mark of the opening half. Connors took a 62-61 lead with 4:47 remaining when Weatherspoon drained two free throws.
The Cowboys had an opportunity to push the lead to three points however, Hakeem Harris missed two free throws with 3:38 left which would have given Connors some breathing room. Motlow tied the game at 62 after converting one of two free throws.
Connors regained the lead at 64-62 on a pair of free throws by Cameron with 3:20 left. The two clubs exchanged buckets and were deadlocked at 66 with 1:35 left. Motlow’s Chris Hawkins drove the lane to put the Bucks up for good, setting the stage for the non-call in the final seconds of the game.
Motlow had three players score in double figures with Jean Bonny leading the Bucks’ attack with 14, followed by DeVante Jones’ 12 and Sean Gardner’s 10 points.
“I think we lost our composure when we were trying to get ahead,: said Muse. “But no excuses. We’ve had a great season with all the things the kids have had to endure (the murder of a teammate Anthony Hartfield). It has been an emotional roller-coaster year.”