The last time that the Odessa College men’s basketball team was on the hardwood, it was pulling off yet another second-half comeback.
The 78-74 overtime victory over South Plains College last Thursday gave the Wranglers the outright Western Junior College Athletic Conference regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in the NJCAA Region V Tournament.
It was a welcome accomplishment, but the time to take that advantage of the top seed has arrived as the Wranglers open tournament play against McLennan Community College at 1 p.m. today at Abilene Christian University’s Moody Coliseum.
“The kids are ready to play and this is always a fun time of year,” Odessa College head coach Kris Baumann said. “This is what you work towards the whole season. These are all the biggest games of the year.”
To that point, the goal for the Wranglers this week has been all about maintaining focus and consistency. As well as Odessa College (25-5) has played down the stretch of the season, the players recognize that there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“Execution on both ends of the floor is something that we’re trying to really focus in on,” sophomore forward Dimon Carrigan said. “Everything from cutting down on turnovers and being more active as rebounders are some of the big things that we’re working on.”
Taking care of the basketball was one of the biggest keys in the final two games of the regular season.
In those two wins, the Wranglers turned the ball over just nine and eight times, respectively.
In its previous three games, Odessa College combined for 59 giveaways.
“That’s been our Achilles heels at times this year,” Baumann said. “When we turn over the ball over 18 or 19 times, you’re not able to set up the defense you want to. If we’re able to do that, we’re pretty good.
“I thought we’ve done a good job over the last month of the season and I think we can keep being successful.”
The Wranglers will face a strong first-round challenge from a Highlanders squad that comes in averaging more than 84 points per game.
The Highlanders (22-8) are led by sophomore guard Xaiver Armstead, who averaged 17.2 points per game this season.
Yet, there is a familiarity with the team as they faced in a preseason scrimmage.
“We played them in a scrimmage earlier this season so we know what they want to do,” sophomore guard James Reese said. “They’re a well-coached team and we’re looking forward to the challenge on Thursday.”
“They may be the No. 4 seed but that doesn’t mean anything this time of year,” Baumann said. “We’re going to have to play really, really well. They’re a really talented and a well-coached team and we have our hands full.”
Two of the biggest assets the Wranglers have are depth and experience, with a rotation that goes as many as 12 players deep that can wear down opposing teams.
And with eight sophomores on the roster, that experience can go a long way.
“It helps when you have a lot of older guys on your team,” Baumann said. “We have some guys that have played at a high level before and they’re excited to play in the postseason. I think we have some maturity and I hope that carries over into the tournament.”
As for how far the Wranglers can go, there is plenty of belief that the group is good enough to make a run at the national tournament should they get there.
First things first, however, the focus is squarely on getting through the regional tournament.
“Everyone on this team is liable to go off,” Reese said. “We don’t have any weak links on our team or on our coaching staff. We just have to stick together and if we can do that, I think we can go a long way.”