Men look to build momentum in conference tournament

The Golden Eagles will go into the conference tournament coming off something they have not experienced a lot this season: a loss.

The Eagles will look to recover from a 69-53 loss to Oklahoma Baptist in their regular season finale and build momentum with a deep run in this weekend’s conference tournament.

On Saturday, the Eagles ended the regular season on a down note, losing in a blowout to second-place Oklahoma Baptist in front of a packed Bill George Arena. The Eagles struggled offensively but went into halftime down only seven points. After the break, the floor fell out from JBU and the Bison outscored the hosts 43-25 in the second half.

Men’s Head Coach Clark Sheehy blamed the loss on a lack of aggressive offensive play and a failure to prevent OBU’s inside players from grabbing rebounds.

“They were physically more aggressive, than we were and … that’s something that we hopefully can control going into [the] postseason,” Sheehy said. “We’ve got to learn from that game and understand that if [you] don’t rebound well … you make it very hard on yourself.”

Because of there being nine teams in the conference this season, the Eagles first round opponent will be decided by a play-in game between St. Gregory’s and Wayland Baptist. As a result, the Eagles did not know whether to prepare for Wayland’s physical inside play and outside shooting or St. Gregory’s guard play and zone defense until last night. Instead, they focused on refining their own style of play and avoiding some mistakes they made in Saturday’s loss.

“When we play with … toughness and physicality, we’re a good team,” Sheehy said. “When we don’t, we can be exposed.”

Senior guard Coleson Rakestraw said the team is focused on playing 40 complete minutes of quality basketball. In both of the Eagles’ conference losses, they fell behind early and could not come back.

That will not work in a win-or-go-home tournament setting.

“Tournament play is a bit different,” said senior guard Abel Galliguez. “The atmospheres different, it’s more exciting”

While the Eagles have already clinched a berth in the National tournament, they will still look to refine their play in the conference tournament.

“We’re trying to use [this] week to build momentum going into the National Tournament,” Galliguez said. “That means tightening up our deficiencies on rebounding and physicality and getting more confidence and in our motion offense.”

With all but four players on the roster being underclassmen, this year’s Eagles are a young team. Senior EJ McWoods, along with Galliguez and Rakestraw, are the only players with extensive experience in tournament play, being part of the 2010 squad that won the conference tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight in the National Tournament.

“What the seniors bring is maintaining focus and composure and trying to help the young guys channel their excitement into the things that are going to help our team have success,” Galliguez said. “Regardless of what team we do play we’re trying to focus on setting good habits now.”

Shawnee is typically a hard place to win in, and Oklahoma Baptist at one point this season had a 35 game winning streak at home. That streak was snapped when JBU beat the Bison 75-70 on Jan. 17. The Eagles are one of only two teams to win in Shawnee in the last four years.

“It gives us some confidence going in knowing we’ve won there,” Rakestraw said. “If we end up playing OBU in the championship, we’ve beaten them there before and we can do it again.”

The Eagles will open the tournament today at 6:30 p.m. against either Wayland Baptist or St. Gregory’s.