Stars win district title, advance to NJCAA Tournament

The South Arkansas College Stars punched their ticked to the NJCAA Division II Tournament with a 94-75 defeat of St. Louis Community College in the Central Plains District Championship on Saturday at Wildcat Arena on the campus of El Dorado High School.

It marks the first time that a SouthArk basketball team, in its five-year history, has advanced to the national tournament.

SouthArk (21-8), champions of Region 2, combined superior depth with an active defensive presence which led the Archers (22-10), champs of Region 16, to struggle to find consistent offense. Meanwhile, defensively, St. Louis keyed heavily on Star sophomore point guard Troy Ramos, an All-Region performer and SouthArk’s leading scorer all season. The tactic kept Ramos’ shooting at bay through much of the game—though eventually he finished with 16 points—but his impact still was felt as a distributor, with a 10-assist performance.

St. Louis, however, had no answer for Stars sophomore guard Damian Garcia, who had a career night and game-high in scoring, with 22 points, five assists, four rebounds and a steal. He was eight of 14 from the floor including two of three from the three-point line. He added four of six on free-throw shooting.

The Archers also struggled to contain sophomore forward Jamarian Cato, who scored 19 points and had 10 rebounds off of the bench.

The game was tight through the first half, with many lead changes. St. Louis went up by as many as six points nearing the five-minute mark of the period. SouthArk then went on a 13-2 run to reclaim the lead, and from there, trailed only once more, by 29-28, for less than 30 seconds. Garcia’s three pointer with 2:26 left in the half put SouthArk on top for good, but the score still had several snug moments in first 10 minutes of the second half

The lead first grew to double digits at the 14:35 mark of the second half, 48-36, on Garcia’s second three. The Archers managed to trim the deficit to as little as five points, but Ramos’ two free throws at 9:47 tipped off a run that broke the game open for SouthArk. After scoring five more points consecutively in the next minute, the Stars never were in significant danger again.

Braedon Edison scored 13 points on six of 10 from the field to round out double-figure scoring for SouthArk, and added five rebounds and five assists.

The national tournament features 20 teams and is double elimination. SouthArk’s first game will be on March 18, but seeds and pairings will not be revealed until a live selection show, presented by the NJCAA, at noon on Tuesday.