Golden Eagles grab first ever season title

Bill George Arena will have a new banner next season. The men’s basketball team’s goal is to add a few more.

The Golden Eagles won their first ever Sooner Athletic Conference regular season title with a thrilling 84-78 win over Lubbock Christian in double overtime on Saturday.

The 13-1 Eagles’ conference title guarantees the Eagles a No. 1 seed in the SAC Tournament and a berth in the NAIA National Tournament.

They also moved up to an all-time best No. 3 ranking in this week’s edition of the NAIA Coaches poll.

They will close out their regular season schedule with a visit to Mid-America Christian today and a Saturday home finale against Oklahoma Baptist.

The Eagles celebrated their title after the win over LCU, thanking the fans and cutting down the net in Bill George Arena.

“Our league’s had the most success of any league in the country over the last 11 years … and I strongly feel it’s the best league in the country,” said head coach Clark Sheehy. “To be able to win a conference regular season championship means a significant amount to us … because it means we’ve had a good run where we’ve won a lot of games.”

The last win was the most difficult, with the Eagles down double digits for much of the game.

After falling behind 20-6 to the Chaps nine minutes into the game, the Eagles clamped down defensively and slowed the Chaps’ momentum.

“We started off turning it over too much, and … Lubbock was able to get some easy baskets because of our offensive ineffectiveness early on,” Sheehy said. “As we got a little more settled in their offense was not as good.”

The Eagles still struggled offensively, though, shooting 31.8 percent from the field in the first half and eventually letting the deficit increase to 30-13 with 3:20 left in the first half. It could have been a bigger deficit if not for the first half seven-point performance of senior Coleson Rakestraw.

“Coleson … hit some shots when we were struggling offensively to get going,” Sheehy said. “He made a couple of plays to keep it within striking distance.”

Senior EJ McWoods then had five straight points off turnovers to send the Eagles into halftime with a 12-point deficit. In the second half, the Eagles chipped away with help from a defense that held the Chaps to 36 percent shooting and a 12-point second half from freshman D’Shon Taylor.

The game got testy with seven minutes left when, after a foul on the floor, Jaron Vierra grabbed sophomore Max Hopfgartner violently and Hopfgartner pushed back. Both players got technical fouls and Hopfgartner was ejected.

Down by as much as nine with four minutes left, the Eagles shut down Lubbock Christian’s offense, not allowing a field goal for the rest of regulation. McWoods and Taylor combined for 10 points in the final four minutes and hit clutch free throws to pull the Eagles even with 34 seconds left.

“D’Shon [and] EJ did a nice job of attacking the basket and getting to the line and then converting.” Sheehy said. “Those two guys really made some plays that helped us down the stretch.”

The Chaps had a chance to win it but AJ Luckey’s shot at the buzzer rattled out. The defensive tone continued in the first overtime, with both teams only scoring seven points. The Golden Eagles had a chance to win it as time expired but missed a couple of last second attempts. It ended up not mattering, as the Eagles dominated the second overtime, taking a 69-68 lead with 3:19 left off a three by Rakestraw. The Eagles would never look back, outscoring LCU 22-16 in the final frame.

The Golden Eagles will look to build momentum going into the conference tournament in Shawnee, Okla. starting on Feb. 27. In the first round, the Eagles will face the winner of a play-in game between the eighth and ninth place teams in the conference.

The Eagles will play next at MACU today at 8 p.m. and will host Oklahoma Baptist in JBU’s home finale Saturday at 5 p.m. in Bill George Arena.