By Dave Wagner
It took a couple of days, but Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball coach Shawn Scanlan thinks the Greyhounds have recovered mentally from their disappointing first-round loss at home to Southwestern Oklahoma in last week’s Lone Star Conference tournament.
The Hounds (20-8) hope to turn the unwanted down time into a plus as they prepare to face third-seeded Northwest Missouri State in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II South Central Region tournament at 11 a.m. (MST) on Saturday in Stephenville, Texas.
“We’ve had a good week of practice,” Scanlan said. “This is a really special moment for us. We’ve worked awfully hard, and to play on the grandest stage at our level is really special. I’m excited about the prospects of this weekend and the challenges ahead.
“I think we’ve grown to understand what it takes to win, and I think we believe in ourselves. This is as good a definition of ‘team’ as I’ve ever been around. It’s been a pleasure and a joy to watch them come together.”
The teams met earlier this season, with the Bearcats (26-4) winning a competitive game 90-82 in the finals of their own tournament in November at Maryville, Mo.
Veteran NWMSU coach Steve Tappmeyer said his squad had a difficult time with Eastern, perhaps tougher than expected in a venue where they are usually dominant.
“We played them on our floor, way away from their home, with our fans, and they gave us a tough game,” said Tappmeyer, in his 16th season at the helm. “We know they’re a really good opponent, and it’ll be a hard-fought game.”
Scanlan said the Hounds’ pre-LSC schedule, including the trip to Maryville, stands them in good stead as they prepare for their first regional tournament appearance since 1993.
“We played an awfully difficult schedule early, including a game against New Mexico State on the road and the tournament at Northwest Missouri,” he said. “They play similar to us — they run if given the opportunity, but they can play in the halfcourt.
“I think it’ll be a really good matchup. We just didn’t have enough good plays down the stretch (in the first meeting).”
Junior forward Jamaal Hunnicutt said the Hounds are glad to get another chance after last week’s 61-52 loss against Southwestern.
“We really didn’t know (if the team would make the playoffs),” said the 6-foot-5 Hunnicutt, who averages 12.9 points and leads ENMU in rebounding, steals and blocked shots. “We needed a lot of teams to fall out of the picture, but we’re really happy to be playing.
“We were able to get some practice and try to get everybody back on the same page. Hopefully, we’ll play hard and play together.”
NWMSU, ranked 15th in NCAA Division II, won its first 13 games and was 19-1 at one point. Tappmeyer said the Bearcats, led by senior guard Kelvin Parker, played well in winning the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association tournament last weekend.
“He’s been our leader,” Tappmeyer said of Parker. “He’s our most experienced player and has gotten a lot of awards. But I don’t think there’s a big gap between him and a lot of our other players.”