Mission Accomplished: Barton Captures First National Championship

Barton topped Triton 88-73 Saturday in Hutchinson to win program's first NJCAA National Championship. (Photo BCC Sports Information Department)
Barton topped Triton 88-73 Saturday in Hutchinson to win program's first NJCAA National Championship. (Photo BCC Sports Information Department)

The door has been knocked on only once in its storied program history, but Season 56 produced the ram rod as the top ranked Barton Community College men's basketball team captured the NJCAA Division I National Championship at the Hutchinson Sports Arena with an 88-73 victory over Triton College.

Making the most of just its 5th tournament appearance after being snubbed as an at-large berth last season, the Cougars completed the 2023-24 mission on its 27th straight victory to claim the College's 60th team national title and second in less than thirty days following the women's track and field's indoor title earlier in the month.

Barton completes the year at 36-1 for the most wins in program history while Triton finishes at 34-3 in their first ever Division I title appearance while as a team earning the Charles Sesher Sportsmanship Award.

Hometown product Myles Thompson led the Cougars for the final time with his 7th double-double performance of the year on a game high 27 points and 13 rebounds while Lajae Jones made the most of just twenty-two minutes of court time by adding 14 points and 13 rebounds for his 15th double-double earning the 2024 Tournament MVP. The son of Cougar legend Jackie Jones finished the tournament with 66 points, 43 rebounds, and two double-doubles in the four games despite being saddled with foul trouble in a pair of contests.

Arguably a co-MVP with his week-long performance, Thompson also landed on the All-Tournament team as did Ring Malith after canning 4-of-7 from deep for 22 points and three steals.

Cooper Jackson added 14 points with 6 assists and 2 steals with Mozae Downing-Rivers dishing out a game high 7 dimes with 4 rebounds.

Four Tritons also reached double digit scoring despite being held nineteen points below their season average. Canning 5-of-6 from long distance, Dior Connors led with 24 points with All-Tournament selection Amar Augillard scoring 23 points despite an off-night 1-of-11 beyond the arc. Scoring 10 points each were Dylan Williams and the X-factor AJ Dixon, who was also named to the selection team, before fouling out with ten minutes remaining. Tolu Samuels led all players with 16 rebounds.

Barton won the rebounds by 12 while outshooting Triton 43.3% to 38.1% including 50% from three-point going 11-of-22 while the Trojans as one of the best three-point shooting teams in the nation were just 8-of-28 (28.6%).

Both teams started off on fire by scoring in each of their first four possessions, Thompson answering the Trojans' opening triple with a trey followed by Jones arc buster answering Triton's conversion of an And-1. Thompson would again answer a Trojan jumper with an inside bucket and following another Triton basket, Jackson's three-pointer gave the Cougars' their first lead at 11-10 with 17:15 on the clock.

After Barton grabbed the lead, the Trojans fired right back with seven straight for their biggest lead of six at the 15:45 mark.

A Jones bucket and Malith's first of a trio of treys cutting the margin to one, Triton sank all three charity tosses after being fouled on a three-pointer pushing the gap back out to four.

Malith continued to stay hot tacking on seven straight points including another arc buster as Barton would never trail again for the final 28 minutes.

The game was tied just three more times with Malith's third triple followed by Thompson's jumper breaking the sixth and final deadlock.

Following a Triton trey slicing the deficit to two, Barton strung seven straight in a little over two minutes for its largest first half lead of nine coming at 39-30 with 2:26 remaining.

Triton would battle back to trail by just five twice but reserve Amiri Ndayisaba's triple with twelve seconds left in front of the Trojan bench swung the momentum to the Cougars' in a 46-39 lead to halftime.

A 12-4 stretch out of the locker room extended Barton's lead to twelve but was immediately sliced in half after Triton's six-pack answer.

Jackson's offensive rebound putback among the trees followed by Keandre Kindell's triple and Brent Moss' 1-of-2 trip to the line pushed it back to twelve with thirteen minutes left.

Three minutes later Barton had its largest advantage of fifteen after a pair of Kindell tosses and consecutive inside jumpers from Thompson for a 69-54 lead with 9:21 left on the clock.

Triton hung around and as the clock ticked under six to play, cut the deficit under double-digits and trailed by just five at 78-73 after Connors' three-pointer with 3:48 left.

Thompson, a 50% free throw shooter entering Saturday, buried a perfect two tosses on his 8-of-8 afternoon from the stripe then after Triton turned the ball over on the inbounds, muscled his way inside for another macho man signature style bucket.

Following empty possessions from each team, Jackson's step-back triple pushed the gap back to double-digits with 2:24 remaining.

Thompson's drive through the lane with eighty-six seconds left capped the squad's field goals on the day with Jackson's 1-of-2 trip to the line with forty-nine seconds put a lid on the scoring as Triton was held scoreless for the last 3:48 including a classy last possession of idle dribbling draining the remaining thirty seconds on the clock.

All-Tournament Team
Lajae Jones (William French Most Valuable Player) - Barton (KS) G So.
Chris Mpaka - Indian Hills (IA) F So.
Bradyn Hubbard - Connors State (OK) F So.
John-Paul Ricks - Hutchinson (KS) G So.
Jabari McGhee - South Plains (TX) G So.
Malique Ewin - South Plains (TX) F So.
Jimmie Williams - Wallace State (AL) G Fr.
Tavion Banks - Northwest Florida State G/F So.
Willie Lightfoot - Odessa (TX) G So.
AJ Dixon - Triton (IL) G Fr.
Amar Augillard - Triton (IL) G So.
Ring Malith - Barton (KS) G So.
Myles Thompson - Barton (KS) F So.

Bud Obee Outstanding Small Player Award: Dylan Williams - Triton (IL) G So.
Charles Sesher Sportsmanship Award: Triton (IL)
Coach of the Tournament: Jeremy Coombs - Barton (KS)

GAME NOTES
- The 2024 Tournament was Barton's fifth appearance in program history – the first since 2018
- Barton's championship game appearance was just the program's second (1999)
- Triton was making their first Division I Championship appearance since becoming a DI school five seasons ago
- Triton was making their 18th overall tournament appearance and third straight including second straight semifinal game
- Triton's 34-3 record tied the most wins in team history
- The Championship appearance was Triton's third overall between DI and DII.

Individual Record Book Impact
Cooper Jackson
- 215 career steals *2nd most – 103 behind Eric Bush's 319 (1999-01)

Mozae Downing-Rivers
- 401 career assists *3rd most – 52 behind Gene Butler's 453 (1990-92)