By Murray Evans
BARTLESVILLE, Okla. (March 8, 2013) – That old basketball proverb about it being tough to beat an opponent three times in one season proved to be true for Oklahoma Christian on Friday afternoon, but the Lady Eagles still managed to get it done.
Freshman Aisha Martin provided a second-half burst off the bench and OC pulled away to defeat Heartland Conference rival McMurry (Texas) 66-51 in a National Christian College Athletic Association Central Region semifinal game at the Mueller Sports Center.
Third-seeded OC (18-11) will face either top-seeded Southern Nazarene or fourth-seeded Southwestern Christian in the title game at 1 p.m. Saturday. OC and SNU split during the regular season. If SNU is the opponent, it will be riding a 10-game winning streak; OC has won four straight and nine of its last 11 games.
“We’re where we expected to be,” OC coach Stephanie Findley said. “We’ll take the win. It’s one more down, one at a time. It was very hard to be focused today on what we needed to be doing because we were thinking ahead.
“But we did a good job of regrouping at halftime and not being swayed by the fact that we couldn’t shake them off. I was real pleased with the way that we did get a lead and then we closed the door on them and didn’t let them get any closer.”
OC beat second-seeded McMurry (12-15) by 15 and 11 points during the regular season, but the War Hawks hung with the Lady Eagles early, leading by as many as six points. McMurry hit five 3-pointers in the first half – banking in one of them – and was even with OC at 29-29 at halftime.
Findley told her players that they were letting the War Hawks speed them up and that OC needed to play at its own pace.
“We were not passing to each other in a position to score,” Findley said. “We were just throwing it all over the floor. That’s a matter of focus. We were playing rushed and hurried. The second half we did much better job of ‘be quick, but don’t hurry,’ which is one of John Wooden’s sayings.”
McMurry took its only lead of the second half in odd fashion. Rikeita Thomas scored as a foul away from the ball was called on OC’s Makenzie Brown. Officials counted the basket and awarded the ball to the War Hawks and Ana Dominguez quickly followed with a short jumper to put McMurry ahead 37-36 with 15:23 left.
Twenty seconds later, Martin took a lob from fellow freshman Daisha Gonzaque and scored on a backdoor layup to put OC back ahead. The Lady Eagles never trailed again.
Martin followed with a 3-pointer, then went 3-of-4 from the free-throw line. All of her eight points came during a six-minute span as OC built its lead to 51-40 after Madison Middle hit two free throws with 8:56 left.
“Aisha was big off the bench,” Findley said. “She certainly was. She has that mentality and she’s a very smart basketball player. She knows the things she brings to the team – a little bit of toughness and aggressiveness, and she’s very smart. She knocked down some big shots and got some rebounds, got steals, took some charges and got fouls on screens.”
The War Hawks, meanwhile, struggled with their shooting, going 7-of-36 (19.4 percent) from the field in the second half. During one 8½-minute stretch, McMurry managed only one basket.
Not coincidentally, the War Hawks’ shooting woes came after their best player, second-team all-conference selection Keisha Collins, went to the bench with her fourth foul with 14:11 left. She sat out for almost eight minutes and finished with five points on 2-of-15 shooting, although she did grab 10 rebounds.
For the second straight game, only one OC player reached double figures in scoring – senior center Katy O’Steen, who had 13 points and seven rebounds. Krista Stevens scored nine points, while Roz Hamilton and Martin had eight each and Gonzaque had seven. OC went 22-of-26 from the free-throw line (84.6 percent).
Thomas led McMurry with 10 points, while Jaryn Koenig had nine points.