The impossible almost happened on March 2. Down 22 points with 15 minutes left, the Golden Eagles men’s basketball team mounted an incredible comeback but fell just short in the SAC men’s basketball championship game, losing 77-72 to Oklahoma City.
Seventh seed OCU completed an improbable run to the conference championship with the victory. The Stars defeated the top three seeds en route to the title. With the win, the unranked Stars also clinched a berth in the national tournament and denied the Eagles their second conference tournament championship in four years.
Despite the loss, the No. 4 Golden Eagles are all but assured a berth in the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City March 13-19.
After executing on offense and stymieing the Eagles defensively most of the game, the Stars built a 17-point lead with 15:53 left in the second. Then, senior guard Coleson Rakestraw fouled Stars guard Charlton Jones to prevent an easy transition layup. The referees called a controversial intentional foul that gave the Stars two free throws, which Jones made. The next possession belonged to the Stars giving them time to hit a three pointer.
The five-point possession ballooned the Eagle’s deficit with 15:01 left and left John Brown fans irate but also spurred an Eagles run. Over the next 9:28, the Golden Eagles went on a tear, outscoring OCU 21-4 run to cut the deficit to five with 5:33 left. But the Stars halted the Eagles momentum, and the Eagles were forced to play the foul game.
After Stars’ freshman guard Jamil Donovan hit one of two free throws with 54 seconds left to increase the Stars lead to 10, a Stars victory seemed inevitable. But then after an incredible last minute, in which the Eagles scored nine points and OCU committed two turnovers and went 2-6 from the line, the Eagles cut the deficit to three points and gained possession with ten seconds left.
With a chance to tie, senior Abel Galliguez missed a three-point attempt with two seconds left that would have sent the game into overtime. After a defensive rebound, the Stars added two free throws before the end of the game. The Stars then were awarded the conference championship trophy, having narrowly avoided an unbelievable collapse.
Senior EJ McWoods led the Eagles with a game-high 24 points and Galliguez added 18 points.
McWoods, Galliguez and freshman D’Shon Taylor were named to the All-Tournament team.
The Eagles will play next on March 13 in Kansas City Auditorium in the first round of the national tournament. The bracket for the NAIA tournament will be revealed March 6 at 7 p.m. during a live stream online at naia.org.