Brayan Au buried a clutch three-point shot in the closing minutes and helped the Ranger College men's basketball team moved another step closer to a dream on Thursday afternoon. Au's shot pushed Ranger past top-seeded Northwest Florida State College, 66-63, in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Men's Division I National Basketball Championships.
With the victory, Ranger College punched its ticket to Friday's semifinal round to face off against Coffeyville Community College. The game is scheduled for a 5 p.m. start in the Hutchison Sports Arena.
Au, who had been held scoreless in the first half, came up big down the stretch for the Rangers. He scored all 10 of his points in the final 20 minutes, including a three-pointer down the stretch that gave Ranger the lead. On the play, Au took a pass from Jaren English and pulled up from the corner.
Caleb Asberry also knocked down a couple of crucial free throws in the final minute of play to help spur Ranger to the victory.
Northwest Florida State had one final attempt to tie the game, but the Raiders' missed on a buzzer-beating three-point try from the right side.
The Raiders ended their season at 28-5.
The win capped a memorable comeback for the Rangers. Northwest Florida State used a 14-0 run early in the third quarter and build an eight-point lead. The Raiders scored the final 10 points of the first half, and then reeled off back-to-back baskets to open the second en route to going up by eight with 18:22 left to play.
Ranger coach Billy Gillispie said the team made a few adjustments defensively that made a huge difference, including inserting Coryon Mason into the lineup. Mason, along with Keyshaad Dixon and Asberry, gave the Rangers' defense a boost against the taller Raiders' offense.
Ranger's offense benefitted from Mason's play. The Rangers outscored NW Florida State by a 40-28 clip over the final 18:22 of regulation.
A sophomore from Oklahoma City, Mason finished with 20 points in 34 minutes.
Gillispie praised his team's heart following the win.
"If people came to see us practice, they would see the same kind of (defensive) effort as they did today," said Gillispie. "We had some periods that we weren't very good offensively so we made a few changes. We live and die with our defense. Our guys have a lot of heart. They aren't afraid of anything. They don't look at a stat sheet to see how they play. They look at one thing and that is wins and losses."
The Rangers had their moments of offensive success in the first half. Ranger reeled off a solid run late in the opening half and raced to a 7-point lead with 4 minutes left.
English highlighted Rangers' offensive assault. He finished with a team-high 24 points.
NW Florida State rallied back, however. The Raiders tied the game with less than a minute to play, and hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to take a 29-26 lead into the break.
The win over NW Florida lifted Ranger College into its second trip to the national semifinals in the Gillispie era.