By Patrick Kays
TAHLEQUAH – An all-out war ensued in the Northeastern State University Event Center on Saturday.
In a game where neither team had more than a four-point lead for 39 minutes, the winner would be determined by which team would perform the best in the final minute. Northeastern State would be that team as they defeated the Central Missouri Mules, 72-71.
The game saw 26 lead changes and 15 ties.
“I told our guys that I think Central is the most talented basketball team in the league. They have explosive athletes, a big, strong post presence,” said Riverhawks coach Larry Gipson, his team now 9-2 and 4-0 in the MIAA. “For us to get a win over these guys is big for our program. They are one of the most premier team in the league.”
NSU guard Michael Harmon’s six-point spurt, with his four-point play and two free throws after being fouled by the Mules leading scorer, Dillon Deck, and Bryton Hobbs’ two free throws after that, seemed to give the ‘Hawks all the momentum as they went up by six, 71-65, with 26 seconds remaining, making it the largest lead in the game.
The game was far from sealed as Central Missouri’s Daylen Robinson cut the deficit to three with a 3-pointer. Hobbs would respond with a free throw, topping off his 11 total points, to make it a four-point game with 14 seconds remaining. Robinson, who finished the day with 13 points, nailed another 3 to make the score 72-71 with 7.3 seconds left.
Hobbs would take an inbound pass in hopes to run down the clock or to be sent to the free-throw line, but he lost his balance on a questionable call that sent him out-of-bounds, giving the ball to the Mules (10-2, 2-1) with five seconds left.
Charles Hammork would miss a fade-away shot at the buzzer to give the RiverHawks the win.
His team’s competitive nature was no surprise to Gipson.
“I’d like to see that maturity that I saw in the last couple minutes transfer into other phases of what we do,” said Gipson. “But they were sharp and they didn’t panic in the last three seconds when (UCM) got the basketball back.”
Northeastern State had five players score in double digits. Curtis Evans led with 17 and Keon Littleton finished with 16 while Marcus Sheppard had 13.
C. Missouri 84, NSU 73
Huge runs kept the RiverHawks' hopes of an upset of the No. 8 Central Missouri Jennies very much alive. But a 13-0 run late in the second half from Central Missouri and big missed opportunities for NSU helped the Jennies (9-1, 3-0) avoid an upset on Saturday.
“We just made some mistakes execution wise,” said NSU coach Randy Gipson. “We had some bad turnovers on key possessions, and I thought we had some key defensive moments where we couldn’t keep them from scoring, where we would get them to miss the first shot but they got it on the second.”
After being down 16-6 seven minutes into the game, Northeastern State (5-6, 2-2) went on a 10-0 run to tie the contest that featured scoring from Chelsey Beathard, who finished with 13, Che’Ron Lewis, Mya Walker, and Jamie Jackson.
The RiverHawks gained the lead for the first time since the start of the contest when Carrington Fox, who had 11 points, would score consecutive baskets with 2:33 left in the first half, putting them 33-32. Central Missouri would have a 39-38 lead at halftime due in most part to the 15-point first-half performance by Keuna Flax who finished with a game-high with 22 points.
Fontana Tate, who led Northeastern State in scoring with 18, helped her squad go on yet another big run as the RiverHawks outscored the Jennies 13-3 early in the second half. They would lead by as much as six, but key missed shots allowed the Jennies back into the game.
The missed shots were capitalized on by Central Missouri with big baskets by BreAnna Lewis and Flax. Lewis scored 10 straight points for the Jennies in the middle of the second half en route to a total of 14 in the second half. She finished the day with 19.
Gipson knew how crucial the missed opportunities were in a game that had 12 lead changes and eight ties.
“They got some big offensive rebounds and they scored off of them and that’s fatal when it is as close of a game as it was.”