By Dave Wagner
The Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball team has earned a spot in the NCAA Division II South Central Region basketball tournament.
The Greyhounds (20-8) were accorded the No. 6 seed in selections announced on Sunday night, and will face third-seeded Northwest Missouri State on Saturday at Stephenville, Texas.
It’s their first trip to the Division II playoffs since 1993, when they edged Missouri Southern in the first round before being eliminated 79-78 by Washburn.
ENMU and Northwest Missouri State were bracketed with second-seeded Washburn and No. 7 St. Mary’s. In the opposite bracket, top-seeded host Tarleton State meets eighth-seeded Texas A&M-Kingsville and No. 5 Drury takes on No. 4 Emporia State.
The Greyhounds and Bearcats will open the tournament in a noon (CST) game, followed by Washburn and St. Mary’s.
Semifinals are set for Sunday night, with the championship game on March 16. The winner goes to the NCAA Division II national tournament later at California State-Bakersfield later in the month.
ENMU players and coaches gathered at a private residence in Portales on Sunday night to watch the selections over College Sports Television, an outlet on cable available through DirectTV.
Fourth-year ENMU coach Shawn Scanlan said the Hounds felt pretty good about their chances, but were still nervous until the end.
“It was quite a scene (after the announcement),” Scanlan said. “There was a big roar when our team was (named). It was really neat.”
Senior forward-guard Garland Coleman said the Hounds, who narrowly missed qualifying for the regional last season, hoped for the best while bracing for the worst.
“(Scanlan) told us not to get (overconfident),” said Coleman, the only four-year member of the team. “But we knew we had a good chance. We just kept our fingers crossed, and good things happened.”
ENMU played Northwest Missouri early in the season on the Bearcats’ home floor, losing 90-82 in a game that was close until the final two minutes. NWMSU, which beat Washburn for the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association tournament championship on Sunday, has been ranked in the top five in Division II most of the season.
“We’re playing a team we’ve already played before, so that’s probably helpful,” Scanlan said. “They’re a very good team, and they’ve been a good program for a long time.
“We played them pretty well. We led at halftime and were in a two-point game with a minute and a half left.”
After losing to Southwestern Oklahoma in the first round of the Lone Star Conference tournament on Tuesday at Greyhound Arena, the Hounds took a couple of days off and then resumed practice.
“We’ve had a little bit of a break and a chance to regroup,” Scanlan said. “It’s worked out pretty good for us. We’ve had a couple of pretty good practices over the weekend.”
Coleman said the Hounds are looking forward to the rematch with the Bearcats, and he feels the Greyhounds “owe them one.”
Now it’s on a neutral site,” Coleman added. “Our chances are pretty good if everybody brings it.”
PNT Staff Writer Kevin Wilson contributed to this report.