Win Gives Blazers No. 1 Seed In Regionals
Coach Curtis Christopher couldn't help but worry about how the Ohio Christian Trailblazers would fare in crunch time on Tuesday when guard Tirrell Cumberland had to leave the game with an injury.
"I was wondering how our team would rally after Tirrell went out after hurting his nose," Christopher said. "That was a big point in the game, and I wondered how momentum would flow, but our bench came through for us and helped us deliver."
The delivery was a 77-71 win over archrival Kentucky Christian to land the No. 1 seed in the National Christian College Athletic Association Division II Mid-East Region tournament.
"The last three seasons, this has been the game that has decided the No. 1 seed and, fortunately, we've won it two years," Christopher said. "It's nice to get that top seed and get a break."
Cumberland made a nifty layup to put the Trailblazers ahead to stay at 68-66 in the closing minutes of the game before he left with the injury. The basket started an 11-3 run to collect the win.
After each side traded a basket, Jeremy Hays hit a jumper that was followed by a three-pointer from Michael Farrell to put the Trailblazers ahead 75-68.
"Michael's been really shooting the ball well in the last six or seven games, and when he got in foul trouble early, I was worried about where we would get our perimeter shooting from," Christopher said. "That three-pointer was the dagger."
The Trailblazers (19-8) , who lost on a buzzer-beating shot at KCU earlier this season, scored the first 10 points in the game and held Kentucky Christian scoreless for 5:15. But the Knights rebounded to eventually take the lead before OCU ended the first half on a 5-0 run to take a 34-32 halftime lead.
"We had a lot of adrenaline and were able to get off to a fast start, but after we settled into the game, Kentucky Christian cut the lead down and was right there at halftime," Christopher said. "They had nine more shots than we did in the first half, a lot of those coming off offensive rebounds, and I told the guys at halftime that if we didn't do a lot better on the boards then we were going to lose the game.
"We really raised our intensity on the boards after that, and our guys dug down deep to get the win."
Hays led the Trailblazers with 23 points and nine rebounds. Tim Baker followed with 15 points and Michael Baker, Delorean Glanton and Cumberland added eight each.
"Hays is only a sophomore and is playing with a little confidence where he is asking for the basketball," Christopher said. "A year ago, he would not ask for the basketball and we had to tell him to shoot it. His confidence and recognition has come a long way."
Blandon Clemons led Kentucky Christian with 21 points.
OCU is slated to host a doubleheader on Friday at home against Freewill Baptist. The women start at 6 p.m., followed by the men.
By Brad Morris, Sports Editor, Circleville Herald