Broncos mull playoff possibilities after home win over Howard

Jordyn Owens dished off a pass early in the first half.

NMMI Sports Press

Atem Bior goes up for a reverse layup.

The New Mexico Military Institute Bronco basketball team moved one step closer on their quest to make the postseason playoffs Wednesday, downing Howard College at home, 76-74.

The pre-game started with problems playing the National Anthem, but the NMMI Corps pf Cadets — in full attendance at the mandatory game – saved the introductions by finishing the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner after the music cut out.

Once play began in the must-win conference game, freshman point guard Jordyn Owens then put on a show for the packed Cahoon Armory crowd. Owens drove to the hoop for baskets, making difficult contested shots against taller Howard players, and also lit it up from behind the arc to finish as the lead-scorer for the Broncos with 24 points, 18 of which were recorded in the first half.

“Jordyn Owens has come a long way and has grown up tremendously these past six or seven games,” said head Bronco coach Ralph Davis. “He gave us great energy and didn’t turn the basketball over.”

Davis Steelman plays tight defense in the second half against Howard.

NMMI rarely trailed in that opening stanza and built up an eight point lead before the ending buzzer thanks to two Owens 3s, along with another trey by freshman forward Jaylen Williams. They headed into the locker room up 46-38.

Howard College rallied to start the second half and took a one point lead, 54-53, after Hawk forward Jack Pagenkopf got an easy bucket in the paint with 13:49 remaining.

But that was the only time Howard had the upper hand on the scoreboard. NMMI came right back and made it 55-54 on a low-post shot by sophomore forward Atem Bior while frosh guard Matt Brown had the assist. This started a 7-0 Bronco run with a pair of free throws by Owens, followed by a clutch 3 by soph guard Davis Steelman.

Rosel Hurley guards a Howard College player in the first half.

NMMI tied their biggest lead of the game, that eight-point margin they held at the half, at the 4:04 mark. After a Howard bucket made it 68-64, Bior got another assist from Brown for the inside two, then after a defensive stop, was fouled and made both free throws, to put NMMI up 72-64.

NMMI staved off a last-ditch Hawk rally – five quick points in the final minute of play – but the win for the Broncos was never seriously in question.

In addition to Owen’s 24 points, NMMI had two other players in double figures – Bior with 17 and soph guard Rosel Hurley with 10. Frosh forward Jaylen Williams also added nine points with 3-for-6 shooting from behind the arc. Brown was the Bronc’s top rebounder with seven, including four on offense.

“It was a great atmosphere. I wish I could have played in this game,” said coach Davis. “No question that the cadets helped us get that win tonight. We knew we were certainly capable of winning this game and this was a must win to keep our conference tournament hopes alive.

“Special hat tip to Davis Steelman, our only two-year player,” continued Davis. “We have a tradition of moving along our freshman that are qualifiers so they can go to a four-year school. Steelman was a qualifier and top in his class and he decided to come back.”

With the win, NMMI moves to 18-11 overall and 8-7 in conference; Howard drops to 21-8 and 9-6.

NMMI still sits in fifth place in the WJCAC standings and they’ll need some help to make the Region V Postseason Tournament. The Institute needs to win their final game of the season – at Western Texas College on March 1. Also, after a Howard win last week over conference leader Odessa College, the Broncos are no longer able to surpass the Hawks for fourth place – even in the event of a tie in conference records, the Hawks would win the tiebreaker.

Thus, the Broncos need also Clarendon College to lose all three of their remaining conference games. While this seems like a bit of a long-shot, two of those games pit the Bulldogs against the top-two teams in the conference — at Odessa, and home vs. South Plains – with the third match being at home vs. Frank Philips College, currently in eight place in the WJCAC standings with a 4-10 mark.

But it is almost time for March Madness and those darkhorse teams we all love. And maybe, just maybe,  the NMMI cadets joining together to finish up a previously-failed playing of the National Anthem is exactly what is needed to spark the beginnings of such a Cinderella story.

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