By Murray Evans
WINONA LAKE, Ind. (March 19, 2014) – For almost 39 minutes on Wednesday afternoon against Roberts Wesleyan (N.Y.), Oklahoma Christian appeared headed to victory in the National Christian College Athletic Association women's basketball quarterfinals. Then it all fell apart in the final 65 seconds.
OC scored only two points in the final 5½ minutes and couldn’t hang on, dropping a 69-66 decision to the fifth-seeded Redhawks at Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center. The loss dropped fourth-seeded OC (17-12) into the consolation bracket and the Lady Eagles will face the eighth-seeded host team, Grace (Ind.), on Thursday at 7:30 a.m. Central time.
“You play enough games and that’s the way it goes,” OC coach Stephanie Findley said. “You lose them all kinds of ways. It’s almost like we looked for a way to lose this one.”
OC took 81 shots (30 more than the Redhawks) but made only 25, a 30.9-percent clip, and Roberts Wesleyan (15-12) outrebounded the Lady Eagles – the top rebounding team in the NCCAA – by a 46-41 count. Marissa Sell led the Redhawks with 23 points and a tournament single-game record 24 rebounds.
“You can’t let one girl control the game like that,” Findley said. “We didn’t take pride in our individual defense by shutting her down. We were supposed to be doubling. We were late on the doubles lots of times. We knew that she was a good player and were just too late on the double teams sometimes.
“But it still wouldn’t have mattered if we knew how to shoot. … I’m our shooting coach, I guess, and I’ve got to find a new shooting coach. We can’t shoot.”
From Andee Wayne’s jumper 11 seconds into the game until the 1:05 mark, the Lady Eagles led the first-ever meeting between the teams. OC used a 17-2 run to take a 59-42 lead with 10:57 left on a 3-pointer by Emma Gade.
But OC went ice-cold after that, managing only three more field goals. The next-to-last one came on a steal and layup by Aisha Martin with 5:41 left and extended the Lady Eagles’ advantage to 64-57.
Slowly but surely, Roberts Wesleyan closed the gap and took its first lead at 65-64 on two free throws by Sell at the 1:05 mark. OC quickly answered, with Roz Hamilton feeding Jordan Gorham for a layup that put the Lady Eagles back ahead.
Sell canned a 15-foot jumper with 19.1 seconds left, giving the Redhawks a 67-66 lead. The Redhawks, who had four team fouls to that point, tried to slow down OC by using the fouls they had to give, but that strategy almost backfired, as Imani Pierce fouled OC’s Sydney Hill with 10.1 seconds left, sending Hill – who led OC with 18 points – to the free-throw line for a one-and-one opportunity.
Hill missed and there was a tie ball on the rebound, with the arrow pointing OC’s way. After a timeout, Hill inbounded to McKenzie Stanford, whose layup attempt in a crowd banged off the rim. Chelsea Sanders rebounded for Roberts Wesleyan with :03 left and made both free throws.
OC managed a 40-footer by Krista Stevens at the buzzer that banged off the backboard, hit the rim and caromed away. The Lady Eagles finished 5-of-27 from 3-point range (18.5 percent), never finding their rhythm from behind the arc, just as they missed many layups against a physical Roberts Wesleyan squad.
“When they started making a run, you start getting tight and that’s what happened,” Findley said. “We started getting tight. We were getting shots right under the basket. We are getting fouled, but we’ve got to learn how to finish those. The referees aren’t going to give you every call. We’ve got to be strong enough to go up and finish those shots. We blew it ourselves by not finishing down underneath.”
Hamilton, the reigning NCCAA student-athlete of the week, just missed a double-double with nine points and 13 rebounds, her 11th double-digit rebounding game of the season. Gorham finished 4-of-6 from the field and scored nine points while Gade had eight points.
The Redhawks had four players score in double figures – Sell, Sanders (12 points), Ashley Cianfriglia (10 points) and Samantha Courtney (10 points).
With their national-title hopes dashed, the Lady Eagles must regroup to play two more games on Thursday and Friday and try to finish fifth.
“Which teams can bounce back and compete for two more games?“ Findley said. :If you can win those two, then you finish on a two-game winning streak.”