By Kenton Brooks
Phoenix Sports Writer
WARNER – Willie Atwood tried to focus on Monday’s Oklahoma Collegiate Athletic Conference game against Northern-Tonkawa, but it wasn’t easy.
Earlier in the day, he and teammates, along with members of the women’s team, were shocked by the news of the shooting death of former teammate Anthony Hartfield in Oklahoma City early Monday morning.
“Coach (Bill) Muse told us before the game that we had to try to block out everything and to stick together,” Atwood, a 6-foot-8 freshman, said. “It was hard thinking about the game and what happened.”
Atwood, who finished with a team-high 15 points, and the Cowboys lost the emotionally-charged game 69-64 in overtime to the Mavericks.
“We were close friends, but I’m close with everyone on this team,” he said.
Connors used every ounce of its energy to fight back from a 28-18 halftime deficit. The Cowboys took their first lead of the game at 45-44 with 6:24 in regulation on Josh Cameron’s 3-pointer.
Muse’s squad forced the overtime when Devante Moore sank a shot with 4.9 seconds left. The ball bounced on the rim three times before falling through the nets.
The Mavericks’ Phillip Leonard came up short on a shot with two seconds left.
NOC-Tonkawa outscored the Cowboys 15-10 in overtime.
It was an emotional day and night for the Cowboys.
“There’s no playbook for what we went through,” Muse said. “It was a long day. I feel for Anthony’s family and my team.”
A moment of silence was held before each game of the doubleheader.
Hartfield, a 6-foot freshman guard, played for Oklahoma City’s U.S. Grant High School and averaged 22 points per game in junior and senior seasons. Muse said Hartfield left the team for personal reasons a week before the first game of the second semester.
A candlelight vigil for Hartfield will be 7 tonight at the school’s Fine Arts Building, Muse said. Muse also said the players are dedicating the season to Hartfield.
Atwood was one of three players to score in double figures for Connors. The others were Cameron (14) and Moore (11) as the Cowboys, ranked No. 12 in last week’s National Junior College Athletic Association poll, drop to 13-3 overall and 4-2 in the OCAC. The new rankings are expected to be announced today.
NOC-Tonkawa’s Dareon Jones scored all nine of his points in the overtime as the Mavericks improved to 15-3 and 4-2.
Muse said Monday “was a long day” at Connors.
“Once a player is recruited to play at Connors, he’s a member of the Connors family for life,” he said. “I’ve had books about grieving on my desk. It’s a sad deal.”
The Cowboys were already short-handed going into the game as 6-7 sophomore Denell Henderson was serving a one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons and 6-1 sophomore Hakeem Harris did not play because of a concussion he suffered in the last game against Seminole.
The Cowboys and Cowgirls are back in action on Thursday to play Northern-Enid in a doubleheader at Enid. The games were originally scheduled for Wednesday.
Connors returns home next Monday to play Western.
Tonisha Dean was just as emotional as the members of the men’s team. She said she focused her grief into playing energy and finished with a game-high 25 points.
“(Anthony) and I were real close friends,” she said. “I played my heart out for him as I pretended he was in the stands. It didn’t hit me (about his death) until I walked into the gym. I really don’t know why I had such a good game. He was really on my mind.”
Dean, a 5-11 sophomore, hit five-of-eight shots from the field, including three 3-pointers. She also made six-of-eight free throws as one of four Cowgirls to score in double figures.
Connors’ biggest lead of the game was 83-47 after a Shakemia Franklin basket. The Cowgirls improved to 10-5 overall and 3-3 in the OCAC.
Franklin finished with 16 points. Shakayla Love scored 12 and Raven Massey added 10 for Connors.
The Cowgirls started strongly with a 9-0 run before the Lady Mavericks’ scored and held a 33-27 lead at halftime.
Northern, meanwhile, didn’t score in the last seven minutes and 23 seconds of the game to drop to 2-16 and 0-6.
Mary Means topped Northern-Tonkawa with 13 points. Sharon Karungi added eight.