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Eagles fall in Heartland Championship

In their first-round matchup of the Heartland Conference Championship tournament, the Oklahoma Christian University men’s basketball team upset the second-seeded University of Arkansas-Fort Smith 88-79 in Tulsa, OK Mar. 1.

Senior Elijah Strickland led all scorers with 28 points and added six rebounds as the Eagles avenged one of their final regular season losses.

Senior Abel Rodriguez scored 25 points off the bench and pulled in 11 rebounds, junior Jordan Box had 15 points and six assists.

The Eagles trailed 40-38 headed into halftime but outscored the Lions 50-39 in the second half to move on. With 5:08 left in the game, Rodriguez hit a 3-pointer to give Oklahoma Christian a 72-70 advantage as they closed the game with a 19-9 run.

The Eagles held Heartland Player of the Year DaVaunta Thomas to just 11 points and eight rebounds and they shot 44.3 from the 3-point line on the night.

After beating Arkansas-Fort Smith, the Eagles moved on to face sixth-seeded St. Edward’s University, who they beat 94-93 in overtime on a game-winning 3-point play from Strickland with two seconds left in the game Mar. 3.

Strickland scored 26 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including 4-of-9 from three, to lead Oklahoma Christian.

The Eagles went into halftime with a 42-31 lead as they shot 50 percent from three during the period.

Box scored 20 points, junior Will Lienhard had 10 points and 11 rebounds and senior Miroslav Jaksic 13 points off the bench.

With 1:57 left in regulation, the Hilltoppers took the lead 77-74. Box hit a contested three from the corner to tie the game up at 77 and former Eagle Dorian Lopez missed a potential game-winner, sending the game into overtime.

St. Edward’s led 93-89 with 22.7 seconds left in overtime before Strickland hit a pair of free throws to bring the game within 93-91.

The Eagles intentionally fouled and after the Hilltopper’s Sean Watkins missed both free throws, junior Roderick Smith rebounded the ball and passed it ahead to Strickland. Strickland drove to the basket with two defenders on him and made a layup despite contact to tie the game 93-93.

He would make his free throw to give the Eagles a one-point lead.

Smith grabbed St. Edward’s inbound pass but stepped out of bounds which reset the clock to 1.7 seconds. Lienhard defended Lopez’s attempt at a layup as time expired.

Following their last second victory over St. Edward’s, Oklahoma Christian took on top seed Dallas Baptist University and fell 77-57 in the Heartland Conference Championship game.

Strickland and junior Charles Shaw led the team with 13 points each as the Eagles shot just 32.2 percent from the field and 20.8 percent from three.

Oklahoma Christian was outrebounded 47-36 and they allowed the Patriots to shoot 58 percent from three.

Both Strickland and Box were named to the all-tournament team and following the tournament, Strickland was named Eagle of the Week for the second time this season.

Strickland’s 13 points pushed him into 24th place on Oklahoma Christian’s all-time scoring list with 1,409 points. The Eagles ended their season with a 12-18 record.

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