#1 in 2013 – Eagles drop a heartbreaker in NCCAA championship game

Senior center Will Reinke, the most dominant player in the Heartland Conference, led OC to the NCCAA title game.
Senior center Will Reinke, the most dominant player in the Heartland Conference, led OC to the NCCAA title game.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of posts recapping the top stories in Oklahoma Christian athletics during the 2013 calendar year.

OKLAHOMA CITY (Dec. 31, 2013) – Nine months later, it still hurts, but there also remains a sense of pride about what Oklahoma Christian’s men’s basketball team accomplished at the end of the 2012-13 season.

OC reached the National Christian College Athletic Association championship game and led most of the way before a miracle shot by Shorter (Ga.) forced overtime. The Eagles couldn’t hang on in the extra period, but the program’s first-ever appearance in a national-title game was No. 1 on the list of top stories in OC athletics in 2013.

With the Heartland Conference’s most dominant player in 6-foot-10 senior center Will Reinke, the Eagles made an impressive debut in the NCAA Division II league and would have finished fourth had the conference chosen to count OC’s games in the standings.

OC entered the NCCAA Central Region tournament in Bartlesville seeded second. After beating Central Christian (Kan.) 73-62 in the quarterfinals, the Eagles ran up against former Sooner Athletic Conference rival Mid-America Christian.

Despite a monumental effort by Reinke (26 points, 17 rebounds, seven blocked shots), the Eagles succumbed to MACU’s one-man show, Charlie Shorter, who poured in 44 points as the Evangels pulled off an 89-87 upset.

After an agonizing wait of 24 hours, the Eagles learned they would receive an at-large bid to the NCCAA Championship in Winona Lake, Ind. Senior guard Devan White told his teammates, “They’re going to regret giving us another chance,” and the Eagles lived up to that promise.

In the NCCAA quarterfinals, the Eagles routed Spring Arbor (Mich.) 83-59, giving coach Dan Hays his 700th career win. He is one of only four coaches who’ve ever coached at an Oklahoma university to have reached the 700-win mark and two of them (Henry Iba and Eddie Sutton) are in the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

Cedarville (Ohio), which hadn’t lost in 56 days, faced OC in the semifinals. The Eagles jumped ahead early and never let Cedarville rally while posting a 79-66 win. Reinke had 23 points and 11 rebounds and Kendre Talley went 10 of 10 from the free-throw line in the final 1:20 to seal the win.

It was the first time in OC history that the Eagles won two games in a national tournament.

Shorter (Ga.), a NAIA semifinalist in 2012, awaited OC in the championship game. The Eagles again jumped ahead and led almost all the way in regulation. Reinke fouled out with 1:45 left with the Eagles up by four points.

OC led 77-74 after two clutch free throws by Nick Tate with 20.2 seconds left. After a timeout with 13.1 seconds left, Shorter missed two 3-point attempts and was able to corral the rebound each time. Shorter’s Dedric Ware threw up a prayer from the corner as time expired and it somehow went in to force overtime.

Shorter led 90-84 with 1:04 left in overtime. OC rallied and nearly forced a second extra period, but White’s 22-footer at the buzzer hit the front of the rim and bounced away, denying the Eagles, who finished 19-12.

Reinke wasn’t considered for Heartland Conference player-of-the-year honors, but he was on the first-team All-Conference list as well as the first-team All-Central Region and All-America lists at the NCCAA level. Talley received third-team All-Region honors and received honorable mention on the All-Conference list.