The Cleveland State Cougars were given the title the "Cinderella Team" of the NJCAA National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas. Well, Cinderella is still dancing after a win over the #9 seed Casper College on Monday by a 90-83 final. This was the first time since the tourney went to a 24 team bracket that a #24 seed had won a first round contest. It was a game that saw five ties and four lead changes, with all the lead changes in the second half.
The Thunderbirds had a #6 ranking in the final NJCAA poll and had a definitive height advantage, going 6'9" & 7'1" in the paint. The Cougars would challenge that height and only lose the rebounding war 51-50, claiming 19 offensive rebounds. The Cougars also limited their turnovers with nine and forcing their opponents into 18 miscues. That would allow Cleveland to outscore Casper 21-7 in points off turovers. Neither squad shot the ball extremely well, but Cleveland held the advantage over Casper in 2nd chance points as well.
The Cougars would score the first points of the game and either hold the lead or find themselves tied, but they never trailed in the first half of play. Cleveland would go on an 11-4 run in the last two minutes of the half to lead 50-42 at the break after Casper had pulled to within one at 39-38. Jonathon King and Domont'a Wright were keys in the first half with 15 and 10 points.
Casper would fight back in the second half and take the lead with 15 minutes to play, but Cleveland would regain it back on an Exavian Young shot 25 seconds later. The Thunderbirs would again grab the lead with 11 1/2 minutes to play at 64-62. JaQuez Hicks would tie it on the next possession and then Wright would give the Cougars the lead for good with a jumper with 10:44 to play. Cleveland would extend to their largest lead of ten with seven minutes to play. The Thunderbirs would close to within three with a minute to play, but Cleveland would hit six of ten free throws dowen the stretch for the win.
King would lead the squad with 22 points to go with three assists and six rebounds. Wright would finish with 18 points and a team high 11 rebounds. Dalanio Walker would finish with 14 points to go with seven rebounds and two steals. Young would round out the double digit scoring with 13 points. Hicks would score nine points and also pull down seven rebounds, and Demonte Person scored only two points, but had 6 assists and only one turnover.