Special to The Sun
Jamell Cormier made two pressure-packed free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining to lift Central Oklahoma to a thrilling 69-67 upset of Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association leader Central Missouri Thursday night at Hamilton Field House.
Cormier calmly swished both charity tosses after being fouled driving to the basket and UCO’s biggest win of the season was secure when Widgett Washington’s desperation 40-foot heave was off the mark at the buzzer.
It was a much-needed home victory for the Bronchos, who were just 2-6 on their own court heading into the game and had lost four games by three points or less.
“We haven’t played that well at home this year and had lost a lot of close games, but we did a great job pulling one out tonight,” head coach Terry Evans said. “It was a tough game and we found a way to get it done at the end.”
UCO improved to 9-11 on the season and 7-5 in the league while dropping the Mules to 15-5 and 9-3.
Josh Gibbs led four players in double figures, finishing with 21 points to go along with eight rebounds and five assists. Cormier, Christian Huffman and Cal Andrews had 14 points apiece, with Andrews adding a game-high and season-best 10 rebounds.
UCO led 38-35 at halftime and opened up a 49-40 lead on a Gibbs 3-pointer early in the second half before UCM used their defense to get back in the game, outscoring the Bronchos 11-2 over the next seven minutes to pull even at 51-all.
It was back-and-forth the rest of the way.
Andrews had UCO on top 57-56 after hitting his fourth trey of the night at the 5:01 mark, but the Mules scored five unanswered points to go on top 61-57 with 3:38 left to play.
Huffman’s 3-pointer from the top of the key at 2:27 pulled the Bronchos within one and Cormier answered two UCM free throws with a long-distance dagger to tie it up at 63 with 1:34 remaining.
The Mules went ahead 65-63 at 1:20 and again Cormier responded, with the cat-quick senior guard knifing through the UCM defense on a coast-to-coast layup eight seconds later that knotted the score again.
UCO forced a turnover and Gibbs put the Bronchos ahead 67-65 with two free throws at 0:37 before the Mules made it 67-67 on two Washington foul shots at 0:14.
That set the stage for Cormier and he was up to the task.
UCO opened the game like it was going to blow the Mules away, hitting 10 of its first 13 shots in jumping out to a 23-11 lead just seven minutes after tip off.
Then it was UCM’s turn as the Mules reeled off a 24-4 run to go up by eight (35-27) with 5:33 left before the Bronchos came back to score 11 straight points — six by Gibbs — in taking a 38-35 halftime advantage.
UCO will look to make it two in a row at home Saturday, hosting Lincoln in another MIAA contest at 3:30 p.m.
LATE RALLY NOT ENOUGH FOR UCO WOMEN
Central Oklahoma trimmed 20 points off a 27-point second-half deficit, but couldn’t complete a miracle comeback against No. 10-ranked Central Missouri Thursday night and ended up dropping a 87-75 Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association decision.
The Bronchos trailed the hot-shooting Jennies 51-30 at halftime and were down by 27 (66-39) five minutes into the second half. UCO mounted a furious rally and used a 28-8 run to get within seven at 74-67 with 6:00 left before UCM scored the next five points to finally put the game away.
It was the 10th straight loss for the Bronchos, who fell to 8-12 overall and 1-11 in the league. The Jennies improved to 18-2 and 10-2.
Jill Bryan led three UCO players in double figures, hitting four 3-pointers in a 16-point outing while adding four assists. McKenzie Solberg added 14 points off the bench and Alyssa Fuxa had 11.
But the Bronchos had no answer for UCM’s Keuna Flax, who hit 11-fo-13 shots in scoring 30 points to go with seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
The Jennies never trailed after taking a 3-0 lead six seconds into the contest and Flax had 19 points in the first half as the Jennies seized control early en route to their big 21-point halftime bulge.
It was more of the same to start the second half as UCM’s lead grew to 27 three times, the final time at 66-39 with 14:57 left to play.
UCO refused to fold, however, going on an 18-2 spurt that Fuxa capped with seven straight points to pull the Bronchos within 11 (68-57) by the 8:42 mark.
The Jennies rattled off two quick buckets to built their lead back to 15 (72-57), but UCO got 3-pointers from Britney Morgan and Chelsi Dennis in a 10-2 run that made it 74-67 with 6:00 still remaining.
Five straight UCM points put the Bronchos in a 79-67 hole at 4:40 and Central managed to get back within eight at 81-73 on Rachel New’s 3-pointer with 2:12 to go before the Jennies put the game away at the free throw line.
UCO is back in action again Saturday, hosting Lincoln in another MIAA tilt at 1:30 p.m.