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Eagles overcome horrific shooting start, but fall 61-57 at St. Edward’s

Willie Harper led the Eagles with 19 points and four steals in their loss at St. Edward's.
Willie Harper led the Eagles with 19 points and four steals in their loss at St. Edward's.

AUSTIN, Texas (Feb. 1, 2014) – Oklahoma Christian hit just one of its first 13 shots and trailed by 18 points early in the second half at St. Edward’s (Texas) on Saturday afternoon, so it was impressive that the Eagles even had a chance at the end of the game.

But that’s small consolation for OC, which rallied to briefly take the lead but couldn’t hang on, falling 61-57 to the Hilltoppers at the Recreation and Convocation Center.

St. Edward’s (8-11, 4-7 Heartland Conference) snapped a seven-game losing streak while OC (7-12, 3-8) lost its fourth straight. For the second straight game, the Eagles had a chance in the final seconds to tie the game with a 3-pointer but missed. Harley Nussman rebounded Nick Tate’s miss and made 1-of-2 free throws with 2.3 seconds left to seal the win for St. Edward’s.

It was the first win ever for St. Edward’s in seven tries against the Eagles. OC swept the Hilltoppers last season in conference play, winning at St. Edward’s in double overtime.

“We don’t like being below .500,” OC coach Dan Hays said. “At Oklahoma Christian, we’re not used to it. We don’t accept it. I still believe that this team has some good things coming, but we still have a lot of work to do. Nobody is going to give us anything.”

OC suffered through a horrendous shooting half to start the game, going 0-of-10 from 3-point range and making just 20.7 percent of its shots. The Hilltoppers, conversely, opened the game by making four of their first five 3-point attempts and led 31-18 at halftime.

“We were OK defensively in the first half but we just could not score, inside or outside,” Hays said. “We were out of sorts and just couldn’t get anything done offensively. “

A quick burst to start the second half put St. Edward’s ahead 40-22 with 17:27 left after a 3-pointer by Ramir Burton. Tate scored seven straight points to start OC’s rally, and almost 11 minutes later, the Eagles capped a 28-9 run with a layup by Willie Harper that put them ahead 50-49 with 6:41 left.

Nussman made two free throws with 6:14 left to put St. Edward’s back ahead, though, and the Hilltoppers never trailed again. As OC again went cold from the field, St. Edward’s stretched its lead to 59-52 with 44 seconds left when Burton hit 1-of-2 free throws.

OC wasn’t finished, though. Kendre Talley hit two free throws with 35 seconds left and after a St. Edward’s turnover, Harper made a 3-pointer to slice the gap to 59-57. Nussman went 1-of-2 from the line with 13 seconds left, setting the stage for the final sequence.

OC lost despite committing only six turnovers.

“We shortened our bench in the second half and went with a veteran crew and basically played six guys,” Hays said. “I honestly don’t think we ran out of gas. The shots we missed the last three minutes, you couldn’t get better shots. We executed. Defensively, we were outstanding in the second half.

“It wasn’t because we weren’t playing good. We just missed some shots. That sounds too easy, but that’s what it was.”

OC shot 33.3 percent from the field (21-of-63) and 18.2 percent from 3-point range (4-of-22). Harper had 19 points and four steals to lead the Eagles, while Tate had 13 points and Talley had 12 points and five assists.

John Gramlich led St. Edwards with 14 points while Burton had 12. Nussman had eight points and 11 rebounds, helping the Hilltoppers post a 45-35 edge on the boards.

The Eagles will return to the road next week, playing at Texas-Permian Basin on Thursday and Lubbock Christian (Texas) on Saturday.