The drought is over.
The Ranger College men’s basketball team ended a 47-year absence from the NJCAA national basketball tournament earlier this week when the NJCAA Selection Committee awarded the Rangers one of four at-large invitations to the event in Hutchinson, Kan. The team is scheduled to begin play in the tournament on Tuesday.
“It is really an exciting time for every member of our team, our students, our college and the community,” said RC head coach Billy Clyde Gillispie. “I couldn’t be happier for this group. They definitely deserve to be in the national tournament. They earned it.”
Ranger earned its spot in the 2016 national tournament field with a remarkable 28-5 run. The Rangers won their first 32 games — the team later forfeited its first four wins due to an administrative error related to a waiver transfer — including an impressive 12-0 run through a loaded Northern Texas Junior College Athletic Conference. By winning its first conference title since 2012, Ranger College climbed to No. 10 in the NJCAA rankings and entered the recent Region V Men’s Basketball Championships as one of the top seeds.
Despite a stunning 71-65 loss to Odessa College in the Region V finals, RC managed to garner enough support among the NJCAA Selection Committee to claim one of the four at-large berths.
The selection thrilled members of the Ranger College administration and student body.
“This is a great thing for Ranger College and provides recognition that our students, our athletes and our institution are deserving of,” said college president William J. Campion. “This couldn’t have happened to a better team and a more deserving coach. The players and coaches have worked hard to get here.”
Gillispie, who added a trip to the NJCAA national tournament to a resumé that includes three trips to the NCAA tournament, praised the team’s “old-school” values throughout the season for making a trip to the national tournament possible.
“In my whole life I’ve never seen a team like this,” he said. “When you say team, that is what this group is. They live for each other, and play for each other. Those are old-school values that you don’t see too often. I think that has been one of the things that has gotten us here.”
The national tournament is scheduled for March 14-19 in the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
“We’re going up there to try and represent our team, our school and our community as best we can,” said Gillispie.
The Rangers enter the tournament as the No. 11 seed and will begin play at noon on Tuesday when they face Eastern Mississippi, which is seeded at No. 22. Eastern Mississippi comes in at 20-8 overall, The winner of Ranger-Eastern Mississippi will advance to face off with No. 8 seed Eastern Florida State at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
For the Rangers, the invitation marked the first time the team will advance to the national tournament since 1969. That year, RC finished sixth in the final standings.
Ranger College was one of four teams to receive at-large invitations. Other teams receiving berths included North Idaho, Eastern Florida State and McLennan Community College in Waco.
The complete bracket for the NJCAA tournament is available at www.njcaa.org.