Ranger College moved a step closer to history on Friday afternoon in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Led by double-digit performances from five different players, Ranger earned its first-ever trip to the NJCAA Men's Division I National Basketball Championships' title game by rolling over Coffeyville Community College in the semifinals, 84-61. The game was played in front of a large crowd in the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
With the 23-point win, Ranger College improved to 31-3 for the season and, more importantly, will now advance to face Vincennes University in the championship game on Saturday.
"We're really excited to be playing (in the finals)," said Ranger College head coach Billy Gillispie. "I've been lucky enough in my career to have five once-in-a-lifetime teams. I know a once-in-a-lifetime team is only supposed to be once in a lifetime, but I've had five of them, and this is one of them. They love playing at Ranger College. We're just a little bitty podunk town in the middle of nowhere but there is an unbelievable amount of pride at the college, and these guys have bought into that."
The Rangers rode an outstanding shooting performance to knock off Coffeyville, the No. 4 seed in the tournament. Ranger shot better than 52 percent in each half. Overall, they hit on 25 of their 48 attempts from the field.
In the end, RC's ability to put the ball in the hole was too much for Coffeyville.
"Makes and misses. They had makes and we had a lot of misses," said Coffeyville head coach Jay Herkelman. "We are a good defensive team and I thought we were going to be able to guard these guys, but we didn't. They (Ranger) did a great job of moving us, and finishing plays. We just weren't good enough tonight. Ranger was better."
The Rangers got off to a quick start against the Ravens, who finished their season at 31-4. Ranger pounded out a 10-2 run in the first four minutes of the contest.
Coffeyville fought its way back later in the half, closing to within 17-16 before the Rangers hit stride. RC rode clutch shots from Brayan Au and Jaren English to a 21-14 run over the final seven minutes of the first half and stretched its lead to 38-30 at the half.
"At the half, I was actually optimistic in that we were only eight points down," said Herkelman. "As well as they had shot, and as poorly as we did, I thought we had a chance to come out and do well in the second half."
Ranger's defense erased Herkelman's optimism in the final 20 minutes. Coffeyville made just 10 of their final 37 shots in the affair.
Backed by a defense that limited the Ravens to a shooting percentage of just 27 percent in the final frame, Ranger made easy work of the Coffeyville. The Rangers reeled off 46 points in the second half and inflated its lead to as many as 25 points.
Au, who knocked down six of his eight three-point attempts, finished as the Rangers' top scorer with 27 points. He also hit on seven of his nine attempts from the free throw line – several of which came early and helped RC put the Ravens in a hole at the start.
Coryon Mason came off the bench to tally 14. English, Keyshaad Dixon and Caleb Asberry also hit double figures. English, who also collected a team-high eight rebounds, finished with 13, while Dixon chipped in 12. Asberry had 10 before leaving late with a rolled ankle.
One of just four sophomores on the RC roster, Dixon had four assists.