Tahlequah Daily Press

NSU Sports

March 6, 2014

Next stop: KC

NSU teams head to Kansas City for MIAA tournament

bjohnson@tahlequahdailypress.com

His golf game will have to wait. And he’s OK with that.

When Northeastern State men’s basketball coach Larry Gipson announced his retirement — that’ll go into effect at the end of the current hoops season — Gipson made sure to mention how he’s going to spend plenty of time working on his golf game after his 17-year tenure at NSU. He could have started hitting the links later this week, but the RiverHawks won on Tuesday night and extended their season for at least one more game.

Upending Washburn, 79-75, at Lee Arena in Topeka, Kan., the RiverHawks punched their ticket to Kansas City, Mo., where they’ll take on No. 1 seed Central Missouri at noon on Friday at Municipal Auditorium.

“I’m excited to extend my coaching career for at least one more game,” said Gipson, whose club is the No. 9 seed in the tournament. “My golf career will start soon enough. I hope this goes on for a while.”

The next part will be up to his club, which had five players score in double figures against the Ichabods. Landon DeMasters led the RiverHawks (15-12) with a career-high 21 points. Senior guard Bryton Hobbs chipped in with 15 points to go along with double-digit efforts from Marcus Sheppard (13), Dalen Qualls (12) and Curtis Evans (10).

“We’re playing more like a team right now, and it shows,” Gipson said. “That’s a concept we’ve struggled with at times late in the year. It’s made us much more difficult to beat.”

There’s no doubt about that.

Since losing eight of 10 games, the RiverHawks have won two straight contests — both of which came on the road at Fort Hays State and Washburn. Both Fort Hays State and Washburn have NCAA tournament aspirations, and the only way the RiverHawks can entertain those notions is if they go 3-0 in Kansas City.

And even if NSU leaves the City of Fountains with a crown, Gipson still managed to identify a silver lining.

“The experience of playing in this tournament in Kansas City in Municipal Auditorium is huge for the young guys returning,” he said. “There is a tremendous atmosphere and the MIAA has one of the best Division II conference tournaments in the country. The next coach is going to reap those benefits.”

In Central Missouri, NSU will take on a Mules team that it beat 72-71 in Tahlequah on Dec. 21. But that victory seems like years ago and Gipson knows that.

“We’re almost going to have to play a perfect game in order to beat them,” Gipson said of the Mules, who are 24-4, second in the Central Region rankings, 15th in the country and on a 10-game winning streak.

“They are efficient offensively and they’ve got the best post player in the league in Dillon Deck. I’m not looking forward to watching film on them. They’re going to be a formidable opponent, but I’m excited to have the opportunity to face them. That’s all you can ask for at the point of the season.”

The NSU women will be faced with the same task as the NSU men: head to Kansas City as the No. 9 seed and take on a top seed in Central Missouri. The RiverHawks (11-16) will square off with a Jennies club that is No. 8 in the country, third in the Central Region and 23-3 overall.

“That will be a huge challenge, but we’re going to be excited about going up (to Kansas City) and playing them,” NSU women’s coach Randy Gipson said. “They’ve got the MIAA Player of the Year in Keuna Flax. They’re a senior-dominated team. They are very athletic and very skilled, and that’s why they’re so good.”

The RiverHawks and the Central Missouri women will tip off at noon today.

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