MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

November 4, 2012

Title rewind

Northeastern State’s first and only NCAA men’s basketball championship run began 10 years ago this month. Nine players survived to cut down the nets in Lakeland, Fla.

— It happened in a locker room, a heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul kind of convocation that, perhaps had it not occurred, would have left a hole history would have forgotten a decade later.

There would be no national championship trophy sitting in the middle of the trophy case in the cozy confines of Jack Dobbins Field House.

Northeastern State men’s basketball team had just been hammered — no, embarrassed, they say — in their opening contest in the Lone Star Conference tournament, a 78-56 setback against West Texas A&M that was their second in three games but third in 29 contests.

Hence, the embarrassment — from a team that only a year earlier was upended in their own gym after receiving a first-round bye in the South Central Regional.

That loss caught the then-Redmen off guard. This one wasn’t supposed to happen at all.

“This was the last conference tournament for a bunch of guys who had been there for four years and to go out like that, getting creamed all over the floor, that was tough,” said one of those seniors, Justin Barkley.

Now the men’s head coach at Rogers State, Barkley let a little bit of that coaching instinct come out in his player suit. In that locker room, he led a meeting that, he and his teammates and coach agree, turned the home stretch of a season around.

“We had gone through a streak where we were finding ways to win close games and probably weren't handling our business in a mature way by letting teams hang around, that kind of thing,” Barkley said. “The talk wasn't personal, it's business. And when we got back home and went to practice, that was the theme. We had found a sense of urgency that we had lost.”

Larry Gipson wasn’t a part of the meeting. The head coach’s words were short and to the point moments earlier: The next bad game they played would be their last.

“Did I know what happened? I really didn’t,” he recalled last week. “We were at Eastern New Mexico, the players called it and I really didn’t want them to meet. I was ready to go in and stop it. But (assistant) coach (Scott) Reed stopped me and told me to let them meet. We had the long drive back and on Sunday I delivered my statement again to the seniors.

“But I could sense there was a change in attitude and focus already.”

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