HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Connors State College coach Ed Stepp officially proclaimed his team the “Oddsbusters” Saturday night.
The Oddsbusters, alias the Cowboys, gunned down another foe in typical fashion, blasting the College of Southern Idaho, 103-87, to claim CSC’s first NJCAA Tournament championship.
“I said it at the beginning of the year, and I’ve kept on saying it all year,” said Stepp, who was named coach of the tournament. “We played well when we had to and we had to overcome a lot of adversity. We had several injuries during the season, but we overcame them all. We’re the Oddsbusters.”
The Cowboys, 36-2, certainly met every challenge in the tournament. They steamrolled past Snead State, Ala., 116-93, knocked off Mesa, Ariz., 77-66 and blitzed Champlain College, Vt., 103-78.
Their closest game in postseason play was a 93-92 victory over Butler, Kan. Every other game was won by nine points or more.
“I think this, truthfully, was easier than everybody said it would be,” CSC guard Aaron Sunderland said of the tournament. “We played tougher competition in our conference.”
“We’ve been busting odds all year long,” said 7-foot-1 center Elmore Spencer. “We had a lot of adversity, a lot of doubters.”
The Cowboys had few worries Saturday night. Sebastian Neal, who had a game high 32 points, scored the first four points and Angelo Hamilton swished a three-pointer for a 7-0 lead.
Southern Idaho, 35-3, kept the game close by pounding the offensive boards, but soon, CSC’s firepower took over.
Spencer, the tournament’s MVP, had five first-half assists, four of which turned into points for Neal, another member of the all-tournament team.
Neal’s 32 points followed a sub-par game against Champlain in the semifinals.
“I made up my mind that I was going to play,” Neal said. “I told our scorekeeper that I was going to hit 30 tonight. I was due. I felt like I was overdue.”
The Cowboys’ lead grew to as many as 18 points in the first half, before Sean Colter sank a three-pointer to spurt out to a 66-47 lead with 15:25 left.
The championship was decided.
“We were beaten by an excellent ball club,” said Golden Eagle coach Fred Treacle. “i’m proud of my kids, they played hard.”
Southern Idaho never gave up, but couldn’t make a dent in the deficit before Stepp pulled his starters at the 1:29 mark. CSC was up 103-75.
The only stain on the championship was an injury to Reggie Tinch with 3:43 left. Tinch twisted his ankle trying to block a shot and was carried off the court by Spencer to the delight of the standing room only crowd at the Sports Arena.
That was quickly followed by an Mike Allen steal that led to a 360-degree slam dunk by Hamilton. Allen was named the tournament’s best small player.
“We wanted it tonight,” Tinch said. “We just decided to play together and give it 100 percent — no more, no less.”