Eagles saved by the bell in crazy finish

As Hillcat player Kendrell Thompson sank a half-court shot at the buzzer, it appeared to be the final dagger in a heartbreaking loss for the Golden Eagles. But then the referees convened. After five long minutes of talking, the call was made: no good. The clock had run out before the shot had left Thompson’s hands. JBU escaped with an exhilarating 81-80 victory in what might have been the best game Bill George Arena has seen in its short life.

“My heart just stopped. I put my head in my hands and thought it was over,” said freshman Jonathan MacLachlan. “Then I heard the crowd yelling and thought ‘no its not’.”

The potential buzzer beater was only the end to what had been a close game throughout. After the Eagles took a 67-57 lead with 7 minutes left, Rogers State chipped away with the help of four three-pointers and took a 80-79 lead with nine seconds to play.

After a timeout, the Eagles ran a perfect in-bounds play leading to a breakaway layup chance for sophomore forward Max Hopfgartner. He missed, but senior guard EJ McWoods made a leaping put-back to take a one point lead with under three seconds left, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. Thompson, RSU’s senior guard, delayed the celebration, but once the final call was made on his near-game winner the home crowd exploded again.

“It was probably the best basketball game I’ve ever been to,” said MacLachlan. “The last ten seconds were incredible.”

The game was contentious even before Thompson’s attempt, and while the refs talked Bill George Arena simmered. The home crowd became more and more agitated every time replays were shown on the big screens.

“Everyone was nervous,” said senior Marco Manzanilla. “A lot of people would have been upset.”

A handful of Hillcat fans, as well as the Lady Hillcats, fresh off a close victory of their own over the Lady Eagles hours before, insisted loudly that the shot was good. When the final call was made, the referees were escorted out of the arena by security and Eagles coach Clark Sheehy sent his team straight to the locker room, skipping the customary singing of the school fight song with the home fans.

“There would have been outrage if they called it any other way,” MacLachlan said.

Had Thompson’s shot been called good, the nationally ranked number 19 Hillcats would have escaped with a victory in a game in which they were outplayed most of the way. The Golden Eagles offense was led by stellar efforts by Hopfgartner and senior guard Abel Galliguez. Galliguez had 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists and Hopfgartner had a team-leading 15 points in a balanced Eagles offensive attack that saw four players scoring in double digits.

John Brown is now first in the Sooner Athletic Conference with a 4-0 conference record.

The Hillcats stayed in the game thanks to Thompson and senior guard Donald William, who combined for 9-17 shooting from beyond the arc and 44 points overall.

The Golden Eagles will next play Jan. 17 on the road at Oklahoma Baptist at 8 p.m.