Both Northeastern State basketball teams were able to enjoy the new amenities of the recently-opened event center in November and December. And if both clubs weren't used to the new surroundings already, they will be by the end of this month.
Starting tonight against Southwest Baptist, the NSU basketball teams will kick off a stretch of five games in 10 days. Against the Bearcats, the women will start things off at 5:30 with the men to follow at 7:30.
"We're just going to play one game at a time," NSU men's coach Larry Gipson said of the upcoming stretch of games. "That's all we can worry about. Southwest Baptist, that's who we're preparing for. We just have to get the kids ready to play and then it's up to them to perform."
Both RiverHawk teams have a logjam of games in less than a week and a half because of recent winter weather that forced NSU to stay home, instead of travel through snow and frigid temperatures to play at Northwest Missouri State in Maryville, Mo. Northeastern State will now play at Northwest Missouri State on Monday after hosting Missouri Southern on Saturday.
The good news for NSU: four of the next five Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) contests will be played in Tahlequah. Toss in home contests against Emporia State on Jan. 22, and NSU has five of its next six game days on Grand Avenue in its new digs.
"That's a positive, but it's also just the way the schedule falls," Gipson said. "Every team is going to go through their level of adversity."
In the men's game between NSU and Southwest Baptist, it'll be one team trying to cling to the top spot in the MIAA standings while another tries to climb back into contention.
Northeastern State (9-2, 4-0 MIAA) enters its first game of 2014 after having closed out the 2013 portion of its schedule with a 72-71 victory over Central Missouri. Prior to that, NSU had previously knocked off Lincoln, Lindenwood and Missouri Western in league play.
Southwest Baptist hasn't fared quite as well in the MIAA. The Bearcats (8-5, 1-3) are riding a current two-game losing streak, which was extended with a 91-72 loss against Fort Hays State on Monday night.
The Bearcats will feature a club centered around 6-foot-1 guard Rashaad Brown-Peterson, who averages 18.5 points a contest.
NSU will counter with an offensive guard of its down. Bryton Hobbs, at 6-foot even, enters the contest as the league's leading scorer at 23 points a game. Hobbs has averaged 22 points per conference game, despite an 11-point performance against Central Missouri in which he was one-of-14 from the floor.
In the women's game, NSU enters at 5-6 overall and 2-2 in MIAA play. Since winning at Lincoln on Dec. 5, the RiverHawks have alternated wins and losses, including an 84-73 loss at home against Central Missouri on Dec. 21.
The RiverHawks are led by Fontana Tate, who is NSU's only regular scorer in double figures at 12.2 points a game.
Southwest Baptist is coming off a 93-66 loss to Fort Hays State and is now 6-5 overall and 1-3 in league play.
Brook Duncan leads the Bearcats at 16.5 points a game.