No one wanted to talk about the elephant in the room in the postgame press conference. But, it had indeed happened: Larry Gipson’s career had come to an end.
Northeastern State’s 61-60 loss to Central Oklahoma in the semifinals of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association signaled the end of Gipson’s 17-year tenure at NSU and his 31 years of coaching among the NAIA, Division I and Division II levels.
Yet, Gipson didn’t shed any light on his newly-minted retirement following the RiverHawks’ loss to their in-state rival. Instead, Gipson did what he’s done for more than 30 decades: break down what happened and what went right or wrong.
“This is a tough pill to swallow because I thought, at the very minimum, we played even with (Central Oklahoma),” Gipson said. “It’s a game that could have gone either way. Unfortunately for us, it didn’t go the way we wanted.”
Nope, it sure didn’t.
The RiverHawks (16-13), as the No. 9 seed in the conference tournament, were mere seconds from the finals, but two Josh Gibbs free throws with 4.8 seconds left doomed NSU. The RiverHawks’ Bryton Hobbs hoisted up a last-second 3-pointer, but it cascaded down without drawing iron, and Dalen Qualls’ putback was a few seconds too late.
“We emphasize in our program that most games in our league are decided by three to five possessions,” Gipson said. “Certainly, this was one of those games that could have gone either way.”
It went the Bronchos’ way as Central Oklahoma advanced to face Missouri Southern in the finals. UCO then fell short in the finals, losing to the Lions, 84-72. The loss also ended the Bronchos’ season one game short of making the NCAA tournament.
For NSU, Hobbs and Marcus Sheppard capped their careers with double-digit scoring efforts. Hobbs logged 28 points and Sheppard had 10.
Before the loss to UCO, the RiverHawks were riding a three-game winning streak that included a road win at Fort Hays State and a quarterfinal triumph over the conference tournament’s No. 1 seed, Central Missouri.
“I’m really proud of our kids. From the middle of January through the middle of February, we hit a really rough stretch. We didn’t play very well. We didn’t perform very well as a team,” Gipson said. “We found our footing in late February and got some wins. As evidenced by tonight and yesterday’s performance, we were a tough basketball team to beat.”
Now the RiverHawks — NCAA tournament participants in 2013 — will look for a new coach while trying to replace Hobbs and Sheppard in the offseason.
For Gipson, his career at NSU ended with a 280-201 record, and he is still the only coach in school history to win an NCAA championship. Gipson’s overall coaching record finished at 565-361.