By Adrian O'Hanlon III, McAlester News-Capital
The Mountaineers notched their 10th win to open the season with a strong finish in the conference opener.
After a double-digit lead vanished in the second half, Eastern Oklahoma State College locked down on defense and relied on Elisha Hobbs to spark the offense down the stretch for a 106-97 home win Tuesday against Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in the NJCAA Division 1 Region 2 opener.
"I'm a sophomore so I know you just have to stay poised," said Hobbs, who had 29 points, six rebounds and three steals in the win. "We get down here at home a lot and we just storm back, so we're used to that."
The Norsemen tied the game with 6:04 left before a player picked off a pass and threw it ahead for a layup and an 87-85 advantage with 5:51 remaining.
Eastern's Stefone Richardson — who dropped 19 points — answered with a left-corner 3-pointer, Hobbs followed by converting a steal into a layup and scoring on a step through to reclaim a 92-87 advantage with a little more than four minutes left.
Both teams traded free throws before Hobbs made a fast-break layup through contact and converted the and-one free throw for a 98-89 lead with 3:30 remaining.
NEO pulled within four in the final minute after a crushing block by Michael Turay bounced off the backboard and eventually led to a dunk for the Norsemen.
But Hobbs got another fast-break layup and dove for a steal and a timeout on the next possession to essentially seal the game with 22 seconds remaining.
Edgar said the Mountaineers mishandled the 1-3-1 press during the NEO run, but he was impressed with how they finished.
"We were picked eighth and they were picked third in the conference so we held serve with one of the top teams in the conference," Edgar said.
Turay — who finished with eight points — got the Mountaineers on the board with a put back and a mid-range jumper for the first two buckets of the game.
Both teams traded buckets and Eastern's Martrell Brooks had a monstrous slam before NEO inched ahead for a 24-20 advantage nearly midway through the opening frame.
NEO followed with four straight free throws before Eastern answered with four of its own and both teams basically traded buckets the rest of the way to the half.
Edgar said taking away three-point shooting was key to the game as Eastern held NEO to 1-of-10 from deep before halftime.
NEO finished the first half with 19 boards and seven turnovers, and Eastern had 18 rebounds and turned it over six times before the break.
Eastern finished the game shooting 36-of-79 from the field and 14-of-37 from deep, while NEO was 51-of-69 shooting and 5-of-22 on 3-pointers.