By Nick Hampton
TAHLEQUAH – Finally, one that didn’t get away at the end.
After a frustrating 5-21 campaign last season in which many a game slipped away from them at the end, the Northeastern State RiverHawks got the 2012-13 season off to a better start as they held on to outlast the Northwestern Oklahoma State Rangers 78-73 Monday night at Jack Dobbins Field House.
“I don’t think there’s any question this is a good sign,’ said RiverHawks’ coach Larry Gipson, who returned to the bench for the first time since early last season when he took a leave of absence due to illness. “This is a much different club, different mental makeup, different level of determination and I think it showed tonight.”
With 10 lettermen returning for Northeastern State, including three starters, the RiverHawks return some experience. But one area Gipson feels he needs to fill quickly is at point guard. And he might have found the answer with the play of junior college transfer Bryton Hobbs, who had 14 points in the game, including three clutch free-throws late to ice the victory.
“I think Bryton Hobbs going to be a very, very good point guard for us,” Gipson said. “Christian Mack gave us really good back up duty at that spot as well.”
The first half was a see-saw affair with the lead changing hands 13 times until the RiverHawks stretched to a six point lead 37-31 late in the half and led 40-35 at halftime.
NSU opened with a pair of three pointers to start the second half to lead 46-37 and went on an 11-7 run to open its biggest lead of the game, 57-44 with 13:24 to play. But Northwestern used a size advantage inside to whittle the lead down to three points 66-63 with just over six minutes to play. The lead stayed three until senior Ethan Anderson drained a 3-pointer with 3:50 to play to make it 71-65. But the Rangers weren’t finished as they used a put back by Marshall Bell to close to within two at 73-71 with 1:33 left.
This time, instead of coming undone as they did so many times last year, the RiverHawks (1-0) used the three free throws by Hobbs to put the game away.
Anderson, who started all 26 games last year, was the leading scorer with 20 points, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc, and knows that a lot will be expected of him as he enters his fourth season as a RiverHawk
“I know that being here four years means the guys are going to be depending on me,” said the Cleburne, Texas native.
In addition to Anderson and Hobbs, senior Jermaine Bransford contributed 15 points for the RiverHawks and freshman Landon DeMasters had 11 points. Northwestern (0-2), a provisional member of NCAA Division 2 this season, was paced by Johnathan Freemeyer with 17 points and Daryl Glover with 16.