Photo by: Henoc Kivuye
Eagles fans thought they were going to get a break from close games, but once again the Nest played host to a classic this past Saturday.
With nine minutes left in the game the Eagles had an 18 point lead, and looked as if they would cruise into the finish of the game, but the St. Mary’s University Rattlers would not go down without a fight.
Employing a full-court press, St. Mary’s cut the Eagles’ lead to four with 32 seconds left. Oklahoma Christian was able to hit key free throws to seal the win, 73-68.
Senior guard Brandon Troutman described some of the keys to the win.
“Our big men played great defense against their post players,” Troutman said. “They are an inside-out kind of team, and our big men did not allow their best player to score in the second half, which got them confused on offense.”
The students and faculty came out in full force to support the Eagles, as home games have been few and far between this year. The Eagles have three home games left this season, with four games on the road before they head into postseason play in the National Christian College Athletic Association.
The Eagles are ineligible for postseason play in the Heartland Conference this year because of the transition period to the new conference.
A week after matching up with the leading scorer in the conference, senior center Will Reinke again had the spotlight matchup of the game, going against the third-leading scorer in the conference: St. Mary’s center Kevin Kotzur.
Kotzur, a senior, has been one of the best players in the Heartland Conference over the last four years, being named to the all-conference first team the last three years.
For the second Saturday in a row, Reinke won the battle of the postmen. Kotzur was held to 3-11 shooting for the game, scoring seven points and seven rebounds. Kotzur has played 101 games in his college career, and this is only the fifth time he has not scored in the double figures.
Reinke spoke on his counterparts this past week in the post.
“[Kotzer] was a tough matchup; he was different than guarding Dallas Baptist’s Nick Fox,” Reinke said. “Kotzer was bigger and only played in the post. He was a great rebounder, so we always had to make sure that we had a block out on him when they shot.”
Reinke started the game slow, but adjusted to the game play and finished with 21 points while pulling down 14 rebounds. This was Reinke’s eighth double-double of the season.
The Rattlers jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead on the Eagles and then increased their lead to 11-4 early in the first half. Oklahoma Christian responded by going on a 21-2 run to take the lead. Once the Eagles took the lead they never looked back, leading for the last 30 minutes of the game.
The Eagles held a slim lead going into halftime, after St. Mary’s guard Moses Sundufu hit a buzzer beater to cut the Eagles lead to 34-23.
Oklahoma Christian controlled the game for most of the second half, playing inside out around Reinke.
The Rattlers slowly began to work their way back into the game and cut Oklahoma Christian’s lead to single digits with five minutes left in the game.
Junior guard Kendre Talley identified some of the reasons the Rattlers got back into the game.
“Basketball is a game of runs, and they turned up the pressure in the end of the second half and it took us a little while to adjust to it,” Talley said.
The Rattlers employed a full- court press on the Eagles that forced Oklahoma Christian to turn the ball over, leading to easy baskets for St. Mary’s.
Similar to the Dallas Baptist University game, key free throws at the end of the game by Talley and junior Eric Randall sealed the win for the Eagles.
The Eagles shot 82 percent from the free-throw line, which is a season high. The good shooting was not just limited to the free-throw line; in the second half, the Eagles shot 60 percent from the field, finishing at 45 percent for the game.
Reinke paced the Eagles with 21 points and 14 rebounds, followed by Troutman and senior Derek Johnson who both had 10 points. Randall contributed eight points while Talley had seven points and seven assists.
Oklahoma Christian is now on a four-game winning streak, but the road ahead is tough. Their next two games are against two of the top teams in the conference as the Eagles leave Oklahoma yet again.
The Eagles will travel to Wichita, Kan. on Jan. 31 to take on Newman University. Newman is the only team that has beaten the Eagles this year at home, edging them out by nine points in their last meeting.
On Feb. 2 Oklahoma Christian will be back on the road to face University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. Arkansas Fort Smith is in first place in the Heartland Conference, but the Eagles defeated them in their previous meeting on Dan Hays Court.