Photo by: Henoc Kivuye
After dropping two games in a row on the road, the Eagles were happy to return home for three straight games.
With only six games remaining in the season, the schedule has turned in the Eagles’ favor for the final stretch. Four of their last six games will take place at the Nest.
This is the first year Oklahoma Christian has played in NCAA Division II games. This year also begins the two-year probation period required to move up divisions.
The Eagles are eligible to play in the NCCAA tournament this year, so they do have something to look forward to at the end of the season. Oklahoma Christian has slowly moved up in the rankings, which decide how the teams will be seeded for the end of season tournament.
The Eagles sought to advance in the rankings by knocking off the No. 1-ranked McMurry University War Hawks. The last time the two teams faced off, the Eagles fell in overtime to the War Hawks.
Determined not to let it happen again, the Eagles jumped out to a quick lead, starting the game on a 10-0 run sparked from two 3-pointers by senior Derek Johnson. Oklahoma Christian would lead by as many as 21 points in the second half, cruising to a 77-61 win.
Junior point guard Kendre Talley saw refined basics as the key.
“We didn’t turn the ball over as much,” Talley said. “We played with more patience than we did last time. Our bench played better as well.”
Oklahoma Christian shot 41 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line. Sophomore Nick Tate, who shot 4-6 from the 3-point line, scored 17 points; senior Will Reinke also contributed 17 points and 11 rebounds. Johnson, who was inserted into the starting lineup for the game, scored ten points and pulled down seven rebounds.
The Eagles looked to sweep the week, as St. Edward’s University headed to the Nest two days later. Last time the Eagles faced the Hilltoppers, the game took two overtimes to be decided and ended on a controversial call.
The hot shooting continued, as the Eagles made over 50 percent from the field and from behind the arc. The Eagles controlled the game for the first 37 minutes, but some sloppy ball handling and good shooting by the Hilltoppers led to a close game in the final three minutes.
Oklahoma Christian had a 16-point lead with less than six minutes left in the second half, but a 17-2 run by St. Edward’s cut the lead to just one point with 1:13 on the clock.
Talley scored on a driving layup to push the lead back to three points in the Eagles’ favor. St. Edward’s converted one of two free throws on their next possession; then sophomore Willie Harper, who finished 6-8 from behind the arc for the game, hit his most important three of the game to give the Eagles a five-point lead.
Harper — who only scored three points in the first half — was red hot in the second, hitting four 3-pointers in less than two and a half minutes. The 12-0 run by Harper sparked the crowd at the Eagles’ Nest into an “unstoppable” chant.
Reinke posted his 10th double-double of the season, scoring 22 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. Harper also chipped in 22 points and Tate scored 14 points. Talley added 11 points and dished out four assists; the game ended 84-78.
The Eagles only play one game this week, as the Dallas Baptist University Patriots come to town February 16. Last time the two teams met, the Eagles held off the Patriots to win 66-63. The spotlight will again fall on two of the conference’s best postmen: Oklahoma Christian’s Will Reinke, and Dallas Baptist’s Nick Fox. Last time Fox won the matchup in scoring, but Reinke had more rebounds and more assists. Both players are candidates for the Heartland Conference Player of the Year.