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Eagles make strong second-half run but fall at Arkansas-Fort Smith

Nick Tate scored all 17 of his points in the second half against Arkansas-Fort Smith.
Nick Tate scored all 17 of his points in the second half against Arkansas-Fort Smith.

FORT SMITH, Ark. (Jan. 2, 2014) – Oklahoma Christian exited the locker room at halftime and, for the first 4½ minutes of the second half, laid it on an Arkansas-Fort Smith team that was in the NCAA Division II rankings earlier this season and took the lead.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, they couldn’t sustain that momentum. Arkansas-Fort Smith answered with a game-turning 14-4 run and held on down the stretch for an 86-76 win at the Stubblefield Center.

OC (4-7, 0-3 Heartland Conference) shot an impressive 51.7 percent from the field in the second half but couldn’t overcome the hot shooting of UAFS freshman Seth Youngblood. Youngblood, an Oklahoma prep scoring star last season at nearby Roland High School, scored 21 of his 24 points after halftime and went 5 of 8 from 3-point range.

“I liked what we did,” OC coach Dan Hays said. “We haven’t played in a couple of weeks. We had three days of practice. We’ve made some changes and we’re doing some different things on defense.

“I was very pleased with our guys. It’s going to take us some time to execute the things that we’re doing, but I thought in the second half, we were good on offense. Take away about a four-minute span there defensively and I thought we played very well.”

Willie Harper led four OC scorers in double figures with 20 points, 15 of those in the first half to keep the Eagles afloat early. Kendre Talley had 18 points, six assists and a team-high five rebounds. Nick Tate, who went scoreless in the first half, finished with 17 on 6 of 10 shooting and John Moon added 10 points.

But UAFS (8-3, 1-2) went 14 of 30 from 3-point range, led by Youngblood, Jake Toupal (3 of 8) and Corey Copeland (3 of 7). Toupal finished with 13 points.

The Lions led 37-29 at halftime but that lead didn’t last long. OC opened the second half on a 17-8 run that included 3-pointers from Tate and Harper. Talley capped the run with a traditional three-point play off a steal and the Eagles led 46-45 with 16:47 left.

A 3-pointer by Xavier McClish (who had nine assists) put UAFS back ahead. Moon answered with a dunk to tie the game at 48-48, but Youngblood followed with a 3-pointer with 14:25 left to put UAFS ahead for good and the Lions eventually built a 59-50 lead with 11:31 left.

UAFS didn’t score for the next four minutes, allowing OC to chip away at the lead, and the Eagles pulled within 61-60 on a pair of free throws by Harper with 6:53 left. Miha Glavis started a 7-0 run for the Lions, though, and OC didn’t have an answer.

“Our team is developing,” Hays said. “People have just got to hang with us. It’s a tough stretch. It’s a tough league and it’s going to take us some time but I do think we’re going to get there.”