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Balanced Eagles pull away from TAMIU, win 92-81

OC's Nick Tate drive past Texas A&M International's Felipe Vezaro on Thursday night en route to a 19-point outing.
OC's Nick Tate drive past Texas A&M International's Felipe Vezaro on Thursday night en route to a 19-point outing.

OKLAHOMA CITY (Jan. 24, 2013) – Nick Tate scored 19 points and ignited an 11-0 second-half run with consecutive three-point plays and Oklahoma Christian pulled away from Texas A&M International for a 92-81 win on Thursday night on Dan Hays Court in the Eagles’ Nest.

In the first-ever meeting between the Heartland Conference foes, the Eagles went 28-of-33 from the free-throw line (84.8 percent), including a spectacular 25-of-27 effort (92.6 percent) in the second half to keep TAMIU (9-7) at bay.

OC (11-6) extended its winning streak to three games, all against league opponents, and ran its home record this season to 7-1 headed into a Saturday showdown with St. Mary’s (Texas), one of the league’s top teams. OC is 4-3 against Heartland opponents, although the Eagles’ games don’t count in the conference standings.

“I really thought it was a team win,” OC coach Dan Hays said. “I thought we moved the ball. I thought we shared the ball. They did a good job of mixing defenses on us. Frankly, we were a little bit confused. They ran about four defenses. I thought we adjusted pretty well and I also thought we made shots. It was a good effort on our part against a really good team.”

The Dustdevils tried to take OC’s leading scorer, center Will Reinke, out of the game and they succeeded in keeping him from reaching double figures in points until the final minutes. His first field goal didn’t come until the 7:55 mark of the second half and he finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots.

Four other Eagles stepped in to fill the offensive void – Tate, Kendre Talley (17 points), Brandon Troutman (16 points, matching his career high) and Willie Harper (10 points). Derek Johnson scored eight points in 12 minutes and Eric Randall had seven points and six rebounds, giving OC some offensive punch from the inside.

TAMIU scored the first six points of the second half to go up 33-27, but OC answered with an 8-0 run, capped by a three-point play by Johnson, to take a 35-33 lead with 17:31 left. The Dustdevils answered back and were ahead 50-46 after a 3-pointer by Kevin Jefferson Jr. with 12:03 left.

Tate then drove to the basket and was fouled. He converted the free throw to pull OC within a point. On the Eagles’ next possession, he again drove for a lay-in while being hacked by TAMIU’s Damal Donaldson. Tate made the free throw and OC was up for good at 52-50 with 11:24 left.

“Nick is a scorer,” Hays said. “His minutes are going up a little bit because he can score. Without question, we need to get him more shots. He’s getting in balance. That’s the key. Not running over people.”

Harper followed with a 3-pointer and Troutman hit two free throws after officials slapped TAMIU coach Bryan Weakley with a technical foul. That made it 57-50 with 10:26 left.

TAMIU’s Jordan Clark picked up another technical foul for what officials called “bad language” and Troutman converted both free throws as part of a 10-3 run that stretched the Eagles’ lead to 70-60 with 5:07 left. Troutman went 10-of-10 from the line.

Thanks to OC’s stellar free-throw shooting, the Dustdevils came no closer than eight points after that, even though they shot 61.3 percent from the field after halftime. TAMIU shot 49.2 percent (30 of 61) for the game, while the Eagles shot 49.1 percent (28 of 57).

Johnel Gray led TAMIU with 17 points. Felipe Vezaro added 15, while Clark had 14, Jefferson had 12 and Matthew Culliver Jr. had 10.

“It’s a whole different game for us,” Hays said. “When you’re used to playing against the same teams for 30 years, you kind of know about the tempo and how the game is going to be played. This is all-new territory. I’ve never played against St. Mary’s. We’re just kind of working our way through the league and we’re playing better.”