SouthArk aiming to build on historic year

In his second year, Cam Robinson guided South Arkansas College to the NJCAA Division II Tournament, claiming both the Region 2 tournament and Central Plains District championships to earn a berth.

The Stars were upended by Hocking (Ohio) College 75-73 in the first round before rallying to top United Tribes (N.D.) Technical College 94-91 in overtime in a consolation game.

“It was a big deal,” Robinson said. “It was definitely appreciated. We didn’t take it for granted. It was something that we talked about, but we didn’t really understand it until we got there as far as how big it was. It was a good trip. We felt like we could’ve done better obviously, but it was a good environment. We talked about it after the first game on Monday. You put in the work consistently, hard work pays off. Success feels good. It was definitely a good feeling.”

The seeds of SouthArk’s run were planted in the aftermath of a heartbreaking loss.

On Feb. 1, the Stars nearly handed No. 1 National Park its first loss, falling 68-66 after two attempts that would’ve either won the game or tied it just missed in the final seconds.

From that point on, SouthArk went on a six-game winning streak before ASU Mid-South ended it in the final game of the regular season.

In the Region 2 tourney, the Stars, who were the No. 2 seed, dispatched Shorter College before holding off North Arkansas College to reach the championship game and set up another showdown with National Park.

In the third encounter between the schools, the Stars rallied from a 38-29 halftime deficit to stun the Nighthawks 62-60 to win the title and earn a spot in the Central Plains District title game.

With a spot in the NJCAA Division II Tournament at stake, the Stars used a 17-3 run in the second half to break open a close game to knock off St. Louis (Mo.) Community College 94-75, clinching the Stars’ first trip to the national tournament.

SouthArk, which was given the No. 17 seed, couldn’t hang on to a five-point lead with 1:46 to play in their loss to Hocking, but if there was one thing that SouthArk came away with, it was that they could compete with the nation’s best teams.

“It definitely was,” Robinson said. “I believe a little bit more confidence or morale of everybody was so good. The game that we did lose, we had it won. There’s no moral victories, but we had the game won. We should’ve been playing in the next round. It’s one of those deals where it hurts you because we had the opportunity to go a little bit further. It’s not a deal where we got there and showed that we didn’t belong. 

“We showed that we belonged, we just didn’t get the job done. If we’re losing by 20 or 30, it’s like, ‘OK, at least we made it.’ We lost a game that we should’ve won, so you’ve got that feeling that we could’ve done better. For the guys that are coming back and myself, we know what it takes. We just need to get the job done.”

In the consolation game, the Stars trailed until the 8:57 mark of the second half, and Robinson credited his team for coming back.

“It wasn’t a good effort in the beginning,” Robinson said. “We started off doing what we were supposed to do, but for some reason, we relaxed. That team just played hard. If you look at them, they didn’t look like the teams we’ve been going against throughout the year as far as conference and non-conference play. Our guys had a feeling of, ‘They’re going to shut down at some point.’ But they kept going. Once we finally got back to being ourselves, we were able to make a game out of it. They still didn’t let up and they made a couple of shots that allowed them to tie the game or get the lead back.”

Troy’reon Ramos set a school record with 42 points to lead the Stars, and it was his 3-pointer with 41 seconds left in overtime that put SouthArk in the lead for good.

“Troy was feeling it,” Robinson said. “He played under control like he normally does. The last game, we emphasized that we were going to leave in a good way. We had guys that were panicking a little bit and some had a defeated mindset just because of how the game was going, but Troy was one of the ones that kept the boat afloat. 

“When it was time, he got us to overtime and made some shots to get us the lead. Tae (Henyard) came in and got two big defensive stops to win it. It was good. It was an exciting game to be a part of. I wasn’t expecting it to go like that, but we got to leave with a win. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.”

The tournament also provided SouthArk another highlight with their win over National Park being the Nighthawks’ lone loss of the season.

After getting seeded fifth in the national tournament as an at-large selection, National Park won the national championship to finish 31-1, beating No. 1 seed Davidson-Davie (N.C.) Community College in the semifinals before knocking off No. 2 seed South Suburban (Ill.) College to win the title.

“It was cool,” Robinson said. “The thing is when they announced what seed we were, that was one thing that the NJCAA people brought up was how special the season was and how we beat National Park. It feels good, but at the same time, there’s nothing but respect and appreciation for them for winning the whole deal and representing the state. 

“Our region really didn’t get enough respect for having two teams in there from the same region. One of them winning it is big for the state and big for the region. Hopefully in the future, more respect will come from the region.”

For Robinson personally, the trip was something of a homecoming with the number of coaching colleagues in attendance to watch the tournament.

“It was good,” Robinson said. “There were a lot of coaches there that I personally knew whether I coached against or coached with or recruited my guys in the past. I was at home. I’ve been on that other side before. As far as a personal note, I felt like it was a big deal. It’s one of those things that didn’t make me complacent or satisfied. It gave me the hunger to do more and go back. I’ve got to put in the work. It was a good feeling. It was definitely our moment. I still think about it, and I’ll think about it when I get there again.”

Having finished a historic season with a 22-9 record, Robinson now must rebuild the roster with the core of the team set to graduate.

“Just keep doing what I’ve been doing, just work,” Robinson said. “Work and keep learning, try to find the steps that we need to take to get even better. That’s the biggest thing. I’m not complacent. I’ve smelled the flowers. I’m not in a situation where I’m working with my chest out or on a high horse. 

“I understand there is more work to be done. I’ve got the feeling of what it takes to get there, now I have to not try to rewrite the wheel, keep doing what I’ve been doing but take it to another level and keep working on getting the guys that’s going to allow this program to take that next step.”

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