CLAREMORE, Okla. (Jan. 4, 2014) – Up by nine points in the second half on Saturday afternoon at Rogers State, Oklahoma Christian looked poised to post their first Heartland Conference win of the season.
Then came a 5½-minute dry spell during which the Eagles missed nine straight shots. Rogers State scored 15 straight points in the interim and never trailed again as the Hillcats won 81-68 at the Claremore Expo Center.
In the first meeting between the teams since the 2012 Sooner Athletic Conference tournament – a rousing OC win during the Eagles’ drive to the title and a berth in the NAIA national tournament – the Eagles rallied from a five-point hole early in the second half and used a 21-5 run to go up 53-44 on a basket by Jordan VanDeKop with 13:32 left.
By the time OC (4-8, 0-4 Heartland) scored again, on a basket from underneath by John Moon with 6:56 left, Rogers State (9-4, 4-1) had seized the lead, never again to trail.
“I thought we had a really, really good game plan,” OC coach Dan Hays said. “I thought we played very, very well for the whole first half and then for about 10 minutes in the second half. But what we haven’t learned to do is play 40 minutes. We’re getting closer.
“I thought we did a lot of really good things. It’s going to take us longer than I thought, but good things are happening and we just have to stay positive and keep working.”
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Robinson Odoch Opong put the Hillcats up 69-57 with 4:25 left and OC came no closer than eight points the rest of the way. OC guard Willie Harper was ejected with 1:26 left after receiving his second technical foul of the game. Nick Tate also had been slapped with an earlier technical for the Eagles.
“We’ve just got to work on our fundamentals,” Hays said. “Our 2-3 zone is really getting better and better. We’ve added some trapping out of it. We’re a work in progress and hopefully we’ll get there. But we’ve also got to control our emotions better.”
Lost somewhat in the defeat for OC was a strong performance by Moon. The 6-foot-11 freshman center posted a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds and added three blocked shots.
“As he keeps playing better and better, he’s going to get the ball more and more,” Hays said. “We’re making a real effort to get him the ball. John is developing. There’s no question. Our other young guys are too. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.”
Tate led OC with 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Kendre Talley had 13 points and five assists and Harper had 10 points. But the Eagles finished just 3 of 20 (15 percent) from 3-point range and shot only 37.8 percent from the field.
Damien Hooks scored 24 points to lead Rogers State, which is in its first season in the Heartland and, like OC, is in the NCAA Division II membership process. Odoch Opong, a transfer from NCAA Division I Long Island-Brooklyn, had 18 points and 14 rebounds and J.C. Hartzler had 19 points for the Hillcats.
Rogers State essentially won the game at the free-throw line, going 26 of 36, compared to 9 of 15 for the Eagles. Hartzler connected on 10 of 12 from the line.