By Murray Evans
NORMAN, Okla. (Nov. 4, 2013) – The takeaway from Monday night at McCasland Field House for Oklahoma Christian is this: If the Eagles can play as hard as they did against Oklahoma, they could be really good.
Really, really good.
OC led Oklahoma – an NCAA Division I tournament team last season – by three points at halftime before finally succumbing to the Sooners’ height, quickness and strength in the second half. Oklahoma won 88-76 before 2,703 fans, but the Sooners understood they’d been in a dogfight against a program in the second year of transition into NCAA Division II.
“I thought we were able to play our game for a half and they turned the heat up,” OC coach Dan Hays said. “It was just a good opportunity for us. We’re not going to play anybody like these guys. We know that. It was a really good atmosphere and we’re thankful for the opportunity.
“I’m glad we represented. I felt like we gave a good showing.”
OC’s experienced players made plays all over the court against the Sooners. Willie Harper poured in 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting and grabbed six rebounds, Nick Tate scored 18 points in 18 minutes despite being saddled by foul trouble and 5-foot-9 point guard Kendre Talley had 16 points and six assists, operating against Oklahoma guards several inches taller than himself.
“It was fun,” Talley said. “Coach just told us to have fun from the beginning. … We just wanted to put on a good show and compete and show them that we can play.”
And from an OC perspective, the first half brought considerable joy. It was Harper’s 3-pointer at the buzzer – after Talley stole the ball and drove the length of the court in about five seconds – that provided the highlight of the night for the Eagles, sending them into the locker room up 41-38 and with all sorts of momentum.
"Obviously, the first half Oklahoma Christian did a terrific job,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Dan Hays is a great coach and has won a lot of ball games in his life. They controlled the pace and tempo and did a fantastic job and we didn't affect that very much. We came out with much better energy and much more activity in the second half. We dictated it a lot more on both ends of the floor.”
OC still led 45-43 after a tip-in by Talley with 18:27 left before the Sooners started rolling. Buddy Hield and Jordan Woodard each hit a pair of 3-pointers during a 16-4 run that put Oklahoma up 59-49 with 15:44 left.
The Eagles pulled back within 63-56 on a dunk by 6-foot-11 John Moon with 13:26 left, but the Sooners answered with 12 straight points. That run that included dunks by Tyler Neal, Cameron Clark and Hield, who finished 10-of-13 from the field (including 5-of-7 from 3-point range) and scored 29 points.
Oklahoma’s pressure defense in the second half led the Eagles to burn all of their remaining timeouts by the 13:43 mark.
“I knew what they were going to do,” Hays said. “They uglied the game up and ran at us and trapped us and made us play faster than we wanted to play. That’s what good coaches like coach Kruger do. But I thought it was good. We competed hard. We needed to get back to our pace in the second half … and we really couldn’t do it.”
OC made one last push, closing the game on a 9-3 run and cutting the deficit to 86-76 on a steal and layup by Jordan Rutherford – one of six freshmen who suited up for the Eagles.
Woodard finished with 17 points for Oklahoma, hitting 3-of-5 3-point attempts. Je’lon Hornbeak added 12 points and Ryan Spangler scored 11 for the Sooners.
OC held its own on the boards against the taller Sooners with 35 rebounds, only four less than Oklahoma, and the Eagles committed only 12 turnovers. Moon, who had four points and five rebounds in 24 minutes, drew praise on Twitter from former New Mexico and Manhattan coach and current ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla (whose son plays for Oklahoma).
“Don’t know where Crescent, Oklahoma (sure someone will tell me) but OCU’s 6-11, 250 frosh, John Moon will be VERY good D-2 player some day,” Fraschilla tweeted.
“I thought he did great,” Hays said of Moon. “My goodness, is this a little different environment than 2A Oklahoma basketball? I thought he could have been a little more aggressive but I thought he did a tremendous job. I thought some of the other freshmen got some good experience.”
OC will open the regular season on Saturday at 3 p.m. against York (Neb.) in the traditional homecoming game.