Kevin O’Connor has tried for years to persuade Omaha standouts to play basketball for North Platte Community College.
Last season, taking advantage of his longtime friendship with Omaha Bryan coach Tim Cannon, O’Connor got the Bears’ Reath Jiech to buy into the program. Jiech then played a role in persuading former Bryan teammates Ethan Montalvo, Jake Maslo and Jimma Lew to compete this season for the junior college about four hours west of Omaha.
“We always like to have the best Nebraska kids possible in our program, as long as they are capable of helping us win,” O’Connor said.
The Bryan connection, as O’Connor calls it, has definitely done that.
The former Bears have been instrumental in leading the Knights to a 25-5 record and the top seed from the south subregion heading into the 16-team Region IX tournament this weekend in Casper, Wyo. The Knights open against Dawson Community College (Mont.) on Saturday at 4 p.m. CST.
Western Nebraska Community College also advanced and will play Casper at 9 p.m.
North Platte finished 13-3 in the south subregion and won the Nebraska Community College Athletic Conference with a 6-0 record.
Montalvo, a 6-foot guard, leads the team in scoring (15.5) and rebounding (4.9) as well as collecting 2.4 assists and 2.6 steals per game. Jiech, a 6-4 wing player, is contributing 11.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals. Maslo averages 4.8 points and 3.8 rebounds, and Lew averages 1.3 points.
O’Connor has been getting lots of calls from four-year colleges about Montalvo and Jiech, something he’s pointing out to the area basketball players he’s now recruiting. There are opportunities if you stay in state, he said.
O’Connor likes that he has four players scoring in double figures, including Damon Brown (10.6) and Ben Wilson (10.4).
“I think our chemistry has really carried us,” he said. “We don’t rely on any one person, and I think that’s helpful, as long as we don’t have a bunch of guys who have a bad night.”
Sophomores who have provided leadership are Jiech, a jack of all trades; Wilson, a 6-5 glue guy; and Aboubacar Casse (5.7 points). Mantalvo and Brown are the other starters. Sixth man Tim Simmons is averaging 9.6 points a game.
The Knights, 11-5 on the road, have the pieces to win the tournament and advance to the national tournament March 18 to 23 in Hutchinson, Kan., O’Connor said.
“There are several teams that have a shot at it,” he said. “That’s kind of the way it is.”
>> Senior Amry Shelby celebrated senior night with the game-winning basket in the Wayne State men’s 62-60 win over Upper Iowa. The Wildcats (17-11, 11-11) piled up the most wins for the program since the 1999-2000 season. For the second straight year, they play at Bemidji State in the first round of the Northern Sun tournament at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The Wayne women (17-9, 13-9) travel to Northern State for a 6 p.m. game Wednesday.
>> Bellevue University will host College of the Ozarks at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the MCAC tournament championship game.
The No. 19 Bruins (23-9), led by Dominique Grant’s 19 points, defeated York College 58-55 to advance for the fourth straight season.
College of the Ozarks defeated Oklahoma Wesleyan in the other semifinal. The Bruins battled to two overtime victories over Ozarks this season, including a 92-90 double overtime win in Bellevue on Jan. 18.
>> The College of St. Mary (25-7) will travel to fifth-ranked College of the Ozarks (28-4) for the women’s tournament final Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Flames have won 15 of their last 16. Jessica Zaruba from Norfolk Catholic, the MCAC co-newcomer of the year, had 12 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists against Waldorf on Saturday.
>> Peru State’s Adaugo Osuala was named the Heart of America Athletic Conference women’s basketball player of the week on Monday.
The guard from Lakewood, Colo., tallied 23 points, nine rebounds, eight steals and three assists in a 64-52 win over Evangel. She is the Bobcats’ single-season leader in steals and leads the NAIA with 125.
Bobcat senior Derrick Williams has moved into third on the all-time career scoring leaders list with 1,425 points.
>> Although it lost in the GPAC tournament semifinals, seventh-ranked Concordia is a lock to receive an invite to the NAIA Division II women’s tournament for the fifth time in the last six years. The Morningside men are at Dordt and the Northwestern women at Morningside Tuesday night in the GPAC finals.
>> UNK hit 15 3-pointers, two off the school record, to rally past Missouri Western 75-70 on Saturday. The Lopers (7-17, 4-12) still have a chance at making the 12-team MIAA tournament. They sit one game behind Missouri Western with two games left to play.
Northwest Missouri State makes its first visit to Kearney on Wednesday night.
>> The defending national champion Lopers qualified a school-record nine wrestlers for this year’s Division II NCAA meet March 8 and 9 in Birmingham, Ala. Seniors Chase Nelson (165 pounds) and Raufeon Stots (149) placed first at regionals, as did redshirt freshmen Romero Cotton (197) and Daniel DeShazer (133).
>> The Doane track and field team will send 41 athletes to the NAIA indoor championships that start Thursday. The Tigers will bring the third-largest contingent of athletes, behind Indiana Tech (52) and Oklahoma Baptist (44).
Doane’s men are coming off their seventh straight indoor GPAC crown while the women won for the 23rd time in the last 24 years. Coach Ed Fye was named the GPAC men’s co-coach of the year and the women’s coach of the year.
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