OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 7, 2013) – Oklahoma Christian’s players and coaches don’t have conference standings to look at this season, because OC’s games don’t count in the Heartland Conference standings. But the Eagles do have a postseason goal and coach Dan Hays reminded his team of that this week.
OC will play in the National Christian College Athletic Association Central Region tournament and one of the Eagles’ regional foes is another Heartland squad, NCCAA No . 2-ranked McMurry (Texas). Thus OC’s game Thursday night against McMurry was a key one for seeding purposes and the Eagles played like it.
Led by Derek Johnson early and Nick Tate late, OC never trailed in rolling to a 77-61 win over the War Hawks on Dan Hays Court in the Eagles’ Nest.
McMurry (13-6) entered the game as the Central Region’s top-ranked team but suffered its second-worst loss of the season. OC (13-8) has yet to crack the NCCAA national top 10 and was fifth in the regional ratings before Thursday, trailing a pair of teams it already had beaten, Southern Nazarene and Mid-America Christian.
“We need to start playing like we’re playing for something, because it’s creeping up on us,” Hays said of the upcoming NCCAA regional tournament.
The decisive win avenged an earlier overtime loss at McMurry and Hays hopes it sets a tone for his team the rest of the season.
“Our focus was good this week, the best it’s been,” Hays said. “Hopefully we can start putting things together. It was a good effort overall against a really good team.”
Johnson moved back into the starting lineup and responded with a pair of 3-pointers and a 10-foot jumper, part of a 10-0 run by OC to start the game. McMurry rallied within 17-13, but the Eagles responded with a 14-2 run and led 31-15 before settling for a 35-21 halftime lead.
McMurry chipped away at that margin and pulled as close as 48-41 on a basket by DJ Stennis with 10 minutes left. Tate, who went 4-of-6 from 3-point range and scored 17 points, answered with a 3-pointer before McMurry's Takoby Jackson hit a free throw to make it 51-42.
Then came what proved to be the decisive sequence. McMurry’s Dominick Walker was whistled for a personal foul, said something to an official and was slapped with a technical foul. Brandon Troutman and Eric Randall made all four free throws, and after an OC defensive stop, Will Reinke scored and was fouled by Walker with 8:10 left.
Walker fouled out on the play and Reinke hit the free throw to give the Eagles a 58-42 left. McMurry came no closer than 14 points the rest of the way. OC led by as many as 21 points.
The game ended in strange fashion. After McMurry’s Connor Robinson fouled out with 1:48 left, McMurry coach Chris Beard decided to finish the game with only four players on the floor, even though he had players who could have subbed in. The War Hawks outscored OC 4-0 during that stretch.
OC committed only nine turnovers and shot 41.7 percent from the field (25 of 60). Reinke struggled during a 6-of-15 shooting night but still posted a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Devan White added 12 points while Johnson finished with 10. Kendre Talley had eight assists for the Eagles.
“Our team is a little tighter now,” Hays said. “Our depth is really paying off. We need Nate or Willie (Harper) to be on. Derek Johnson had a terrific night of basketball. We’ve been waiting for Derek to do that. Will missed a lot of shots but we got him the ball on time. It was a good win. Now we’ve got to make sure we don’t slip up against St. Edward’s on Saturday.”
Jackson led McMurry with 19 points, but the War Hawks had only one other player reach double figures in points – Kaylim Noel, who had 10.