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N.M. Highlands wins RMAC tourney, earns NCAA bid

GOLDEN, Colo. — For the first time in school history, the RMAC Tournament Men’s Basketball trophy will be heading to Las Vegas, New Mexico, and New Mexico Highlands University.


In much the same manner seventh-seeded New Mexico Highlands disposed of No. 2 Dixie State on the road in the opening round Tuesday and No. 3 Regis in the semifinals Friday night, the Cowboys took the lead and didn’t give it up as they defeated Black Hills State 79-66 on Saturday night at Lockridge Arena to became the lowest seed in RMAC Tournament history to win the title.


The Cowboys (22-9) have booked a ticket to the South Central NCAA Regional of the NCAA Division II Tournament. NMHU will find out where it is seeded and its opponent when the 64-team is announced 8:30 p.m. Sunday during the NCAA Selection Show.


The Cowboys led Black Hills State (18-11) for 37 minutes and 38 seconds of the game and only trailed for 1:02 – finishing a dominant run to the RMAC Tournament crown that saw the Cowboys lead for 107:07 of a possible 120 minutes and only trailed for 5:46 combined in the three games.


As for Saturday, the Cowboys were down 22-20 before DJ Bustos drained a 3-pointer at the 7:16 mark in the first half to give them a 23-22 advantage – and NMHU wouldn’t trail again.


Raquan Mitchell followed with his own 3-pointer as the Cowboys eventually went into the half with a 34-27 lead. NMHU quickly got it first double-digit lead of the game when Nnamdi Okoro scored as he was fouled to give the Cowboys a 39-29 advantage.


Black Hills State at one point got it to six points at 45-39 at the 11:36 mark, but Bustos again answered with a 3-pointer and the Cowboys’ lead continued to grow – eventually getting to 19 points at 69-50 after another Mitchell 3-pointer with 5:04 left in the game.


The lead wouldn’t be any less than 12 points the rest of the way as the Cowboys – in front of a strong NMHU contingency that included the Cowboy baseball team who is playing at Colorado School of Mines this weekend – won their first RMAC Tournament championship in its second-ever finals appearance in the event’s history (which dates back to 1993).


Gerad Davis paced the Cowboys with 21 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Mitchell had 17 points while Bustos added 12 points and four rebounds. Okoro was a point short of a double-double with nine points and 12 rebounds.


The Cowboys shot 47.4 percent from the field, including going 8-for-25 from 3-point range. After a bit a struggle from the line in the semifinals, the Cowboys got back to their accurate ways from the free throw line – going 17-for-20.


On the defensive side of things, the Cowboys held the Yellow Jackets to 37.7 percent shooting from the field, including just 6-for-26 from 3-point range. BHSU struggled a bit from the line as well, going 14-for-23 (60.9 percent).


NOTES: Entering the RMAC Tournament the Cowboys were a combined 0-4 against the three teams they beat to make it to the championship game – Dixie State, Regis and BHSU (twice) … The 22 wins is the most for the program since at least 1974-75 … Desmond Carpenter, Gerad Davis (Tournament MVP), Raquan Mitchell and Nnamdi Okoro became the first four Cowboys to ever make a RMAC All-Tournament team.

(Click here for the box score.)

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