HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Sophomore guard D’Angelo Tucker twice attacked the basket in transition for conventional 3-point plays over the opening minutes.
The Mineral Area men’s basketball team emerged with a favorable start Monday morning against larger North Platte (Neb.) while seeking the program’s first victory in an NJCAA Division I Tournament game.
But the Knights responded with lockdown defense and lethal perimeter shooting in a battle of adjacent seeds, and advanced to the round of 16 with a convincing 76-50 win.
Tim Simmons erupted for a season-high 24 points off the bench, and Ethan Montalvo narrowly missed a triple-double as the Knights (30-5) advanced to face No. 1 seed Iowa Western on Tuesday night.
North Platte went 10-of-21 from long range and held the Cardinals 28 points below their season average while notching its 12th consecutive win. Mineral Area shot 37 percent overall, and was on the negative end of a 46-27 rebound margin.
“We turned the ball over way too many times,” 10th-year Mineral Area head coach Corey Tate said. “We had too many breakdowns more than anything, and didn’t guard the way we usually guard.”
Shaquille Boga netted 16 points with six assists and Tucker had 15 to pace the Cardinals (26-8), who made just their second national appearance overall and first since 1977.
Mineral Area restored an early 12-8 lead on an uncontested putback by Jake White, but never generated consistent offense in the post. Standout forward Jay Raulston battled illness throughout the action, and finished with seven points.
“Watching some of their games, I really thought this would come down to the last couple of minutes,” North Platte coach Kevin O’Connor said of MAC. “I was a little concerned about some of the matchups coming in. Boga is a lightning quick point guard who can drive and do so much. We weren’t sure that we could defend Raulston if he got the ball with one guy on him. I think they’re a better team than the final score indicated and we were fortunate.”
The contest tipped off at 10 a.m. local time, and both teams struggled to find the range after being idle from game action for more than a week.
The Knights quickly stretched a 26-23 halftime lead and never slowed down as Montalvo buried three straight 3-point attempts. He registered no made field goals before the break, but still tallied game highs with nine rebounds and eight assists.
“That’s our whole defensive scheme. We want guys to shoot on us so we can get the ball and get fast breaks,” Tate explained. “But they started hitting some, and weren’t getting out there to challenge shots. You have to give North Platte credit.”
Montalvo hit a driving layup plus the foul to complete an 11-0 run by North Platte, pushing the margin to 46-30.
“I think we had some jitters early on… and the same for them with a lot of turnovers,” said O’Connor, whose team posted 50 points in the second half. “What happened was the game got into double figures and we shot the ball uncharacteristically well. They were forced to gamble a bit and try to trap a little more.”
Simmons then embraced his moment to shine. After hitting a nifty scoop on a fast break, the reserve guard drained his third and fourth triples of the day for a 53-33 advantage.
“We were missing a lot of layups in the first half, so we just focused on finishing and coming out stronger defensively,” Simmons said. “My teammates did a good job of finding me open, and I was able to hit some shots.”
Boga dished to White for a basket after the Knights missed a dunk, then cut the margin to 64-47 with a sudden runner in the lane.
But the 17th-seeded Cardinals were held scoreless over the next four minutes in their haste to spark a late comeback, and finished with 20 turnovers.
“We penetrate to get shots on the wing and spread out the defense, then look to get the ball to Jay inside,” Boga said. “Today, we just couldn’t find our rhythm.”
Reath Jiech alternated threes with Simmons after Montalvo set up Eric Richardson for a baseline slam to trigger a 13-0 run, and North Platte surged to a 21-12 cushion.
Mineral Area answered with 3-pointers from Leon Watkins and Tucker off penetration, and made its closest approach to regaining the lead at 22-21.
Sophomore guard Fred Garmon returned to the MAC lineup in a reserve role and sank two free throws after missing much of the season injured. The Cardinals overcame plenty of adversity and uncertainly just to reach the postseason.
“It means a lot to be here. We’ve been through a lot and lost our best player. Some people don’t really know that,” Boga said in reference to the mid-season dismissal of Mississippi State recruit Quantel Denson. “We lost a pro if you ask me, and (suddenly) we’ve got a whole new team. We worked hard.”
“It was an awesome run for every team here, but especially for Mineral Area College,” Tate added. “These guys gave everything they had. There’s nothing to hang our heads about. Things just didn’t go our way today.”
Damon Brown added seven assists and four steals for North Platte, which earned the No. 16 seed out of 24 teams in the field.
Mineral Area 23 27 - 50
North Platte 26 50 - 76
Mineral Area - Shaquille Boga 16, D’Angelo tucker 15, Jay Raulston 7, Jake White 4, Leon Watkins 3, Fred Garmon 2, Mark Nolen 2, Jean-Marc Olivi Lucien 1. 3-point FG - Tucker 3, Watkins, Boga. (FT: 11-17)
North Platte - Tim Simmons 24, Ethan Montalvo 14, Ben Wilson 8, Reath Jiech 8, Eric Richardson 7, Aboubacar Casse 7, Damon Brown 5, Jacob Maslo 2, Jimma Lew 1. 3-point FG - Simmons 4, Montalvo 3, Jiech 2, Casse. (FT: 18-31)