LA JUNTA, Colo. – The Western Nebraska Community College men’s basketball team earned a trip to the national tournament with a thundering second-half performance in capturing the Region IX title with a come-from-behind 86-78 win over Otero Junior College Saturday evening in La Junta, Colorado.
The Region IX championship is the first for the men’s team since the early 2000s. The win gave the Cougars the automatic berth into the national tournament that begins March 19 in Hutchinson, Kansas. The seedings and the at-large berths for the national tournament will be announced Monday via livestream on the NJCAA website.
“This is an amazing moment for a group of family members to share together,” second-year WNCC head coach Cory Fehringer said. “To have the baseball team involved as well as the traveling families, parents, and fans involved made it all the special.”
While the win is huge for a Cougar team that has been thriving to get back on top, the win was especially emotional for Fehringer, who won his first regional title and he did it with his 2-year-old son, Lawrence, on the bench.
“To have my baby boy in my arms for my first Region IX title and the opportunity to take him to Kansas, I can’t say thank you enough to our boys for handling that business,” he said.
The last time WNCC competed in the national tournament was 2003, but afterwards the college had to forfeit the season and the regional title. The last Region IX championship trophy hanging on the walls of Cougar Palace dates back to 2001.
That is why Saturday’s regional title is special. And it was won because of a strong second half.
Fehringer said the key was the first five minutes of the second half and the Cougar players took care of business.
“Otero was 10 of 17 from the 3-point line in the first half and we kept reminding the players that clip wasn’t going to continue and eventually the tide turned,” Fehringer said. “Our team had to come out in the first five minutes and set a tone. I don’t know what the run was to start, but we went on a big run right away to take a lead.”
WNCC trailed 50-40 at halftime and started the second half on a 11-0 run to grab a 51-50 lead behind a Jervay Green 3-pointer and an old-fashioned 2-point play by Djodje Dimitrijevic.
From there it was a battle as Otero came back to grab a 71-66 lead. It was from that point on that the Cougars defense, and offense ignited, outscoring the home-standing Rattlers 20-7.
A big run came when the Cougars scored 13 straight points to grab a 79-71 lead on a Trent Harris bucket. Otero sliced the lead to 81-78. That was when Dimitrijevic came up big, nailing an off-balanced 3-pointer in the corner for the 2-point lead to give the Cougar men’s program their 12th regional title.
Fehringer said Djordje Dimitrijevic came up big in the final minutes. Dimitrijevic
“Djordje made a corner three that was huge,” he said. “We talked about Djordje having some ups and downs throughout the year but his consistent work ethic never stops. We talked about it in August that we thought Djodje would hit a shot to lead the team and tonight he followed through on the prediction six months ago.”
WNCC outshot and out-rebounded the Rattlers. The Cougars shot 56 percent from the field and were 12 of 29 from beyond the arc. The Cougars were just 10 of 17 from the charity stripe.
Otero shot 40 percent from the field and was 14 of 30 from beyond the arc. Otero nailed 10 treys in the first half, but only nailed four in the second half.
Rebounding also proved large. WNCC pulled down 34 rebounds, 32 of which were on the defensive end. Otero had 27 rebounds for the game.
WNCC had four players score in double figures. Dimitrijevic led the way with 22 points followed by 18 from Martin Roub, 15 from Martin Sierra, and 12 from Jervay Green.
Roub led the team in 3-pointers with four followed by three from Green and two from Dimitrijevic.
Fehringer said they will now enjoy this for a while and then get back to work.
“We are going to get home and celebrate with the Cougar fans, Cougar community, the college, and then get back to work,” he said.
WNCC 40 46 – 86
Otero 50 28 – 78
Vinnie Shahid 9, Marlon Sierra 15, Jervay Green 12, Djordje Dimitrijevic 22, Martin Roub 18, Trent Harris 7, Marko Rajanovic 3.
Jervae Robinson 3, Sekou Cisse 8, Andre Arissol 17, Jonathan Scott 14, Josh McNair 8, Reggie Gibson 2, Chudier Bile 14, Marquise Johnson 9, Will Wittman 3.