By Murray Evans
BARTLESVILLE, Okla. (March 7, 2013) – It certainly wasn’t as easy as some thought it might be, but the important thing for Oklahoma Christian is that the Eagles won their first-round game in the National Christian College Athletic Association Central Region tournament.
The Eagles never trailed Central Christian (Kan.), but never quite pulled away either, eventually winning 73-62 at the Mueller Sports Center over a team that finished tied for fifth in the NAIA Division II Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference.
OC coach Dan Hays recorded his 699th collegiate coaching win, while senior center Will Reinke overcame foul trouble and scored 18 points to move into a tie for 21st on the university’s career scoring list with Greg Brown, who scored 1,441 points from 1991 to 1995.
Second-seeded OC (17-10) will play third-seeded Mid-America Christian (15-11) in the semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday. OC routed MACU 87-63 on Dec. 6 and is 19-1 all-time against the Evangels, who fell behind 15-0 against tournament host Oklahoma Wesleyan before rallying to win in another first-round game.
“It was an OK game,” Hays said. “Certainly, we’ll take it. Central Christian played pretty inspired, I thought. Will got in a little bit of foul trouble, but we got some good work off the bench. A lot of guys played well.
“We’ve got our hands full tomorrow night. We’re going to have to get ready. We came up here to win three games. We’ve got one down. We can’t get too happy. We’ve got to get to the next game.”
The 6-foot-10 Reinke pretty much had his way inside on offense, finishing 9-of-12 from the field, but he was whistled for two early fouls, one while he stood still and raised his arms straight in the air. Foul trouble limited him to 27 minutes of playing time, but he still added seven rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals.
Central Christian (19-12) was within 24-22 with seven minutes to go in the first half, before Reinke scored and Willie Harper followed with a 3-pointer. A subsequent driving layup by Kendre Talley extended OC’s lead to 31-22 at the 5:57 mark and the Eagles led 43-34 at halftime.
During the first 7½ minutes of the second half, the Eagles widened that margin, going ahead 57-41 with 12:52 left when Harper banked home a 12-foot jumper. OC led 65-50 after Talley’s steal and layup with 3:49 left, but consecutive 3-pointers by Central Christian’s Kaelon Gary pulled the Tigers within nine points with 3:15 left.
The Tigers didn’t score again until 33 seconds remained, though. A hook shot by Reinke and a breakaway dunk by Talley gave OC some breathing room at 69-56 with 56 seconds left.
“It was a workmanlike job,” Hays said. “We’ll take it and move on to the next round.”
OC finished with eight blocked shots – three each by Reinke and Eric Randall, one by Devan White and one by Harper. White also grabbed 11 rebounds to go with his seven points. Harper (13 points) and Talley (10 points) joined Reinke in scoring in double figures for OC.
Chris Jones – the brother of former OC player Gary Jones – led the Tigers with 18 points and 13 rebounds and Gary added 16 points on 4-of-9 3-point shooting.
Thursday’s game was the Eagles’ first in Bartlesville – the university’s former home – since the 1988-89 season, when a 30-6 OC team needed a length-of-the-court pass and buzzer beater by Steve Dunn to take a one-point win over Oklahoma Wesleyan.