By Corey Stolzenbach, McAlester News-Capital
Eastern Oklahoma State College had to earn a come-from-behind victory on Friday.
The Lady Mountaineers (5-3) welcomed Jacksonville College on the first of two days of the Eastern Oklahoma Thanksgiving Classic at the Dunlap Field House. Eastern gave up the opening bucket, but did not trail again until the fourth quarter, and had to do some work to ultimately escape, 66-64.
Alonna McGahee had just come fresh off the free throw line making one of her two shots with 6.5 seconds to play and head coach Brandon Taylor talked to the Lady Mountaineers in a timeout. Jacksonville would get one last possession to possibly tie or win the game.
Those five players were K'Neshia Bush, McKenzie Patton, Raven Johnson, Julianna Delcid-Rosado and McGahee. Tamaria Manning had 10 points for the Lady Jaguars on Friday night, but the Lady Mountaineers stole the ball from her, and Bush held the ball for the final seconds to close it out.
That steal put the cap on what had been a 7-0 run by the Lady Mountaineers to close it out, as Eastern trailed, 64-59. An inside bucket from Delcid-Rosado narrowed down Eastern's deficit to three at approximately the 1:46 mark in the fourth quarter. Bush had a triple-double in Monday's 90-49 win at Southwestern Christian University, but only had four points on Friday. Her second bucket came in the fourth, and it was her first since the quarter, but that bucket shrank it to a 64-63 Jacksonville lead.
The Lady Jaguars could have given themselves some breathing room, but a missed shot from Odalis Carillo, who had a team-high 18 points, led the Lady Mountaineers to push it up the floor, and Johnson scored what ended up being the game-winner.
Jacksonville could have grabbed the lead back, but Eastern took back possession after a travel was called on KymMya Thomas with 8.4 seconds remaining to set up McGahee at the line and bring the score to its final total.
The Lady Mountaineers led, 49-47, entering the fourth quarter, but the Lady Jaguars regained the lead at 53-52 thanks to Manning driving to the hole. They hadn't led since Nicki Malwal had the first bucket of the game just under the first two minutes. Britnee Gabriel regained the lead for Eastern, 54-53, but Jacksonville reeled off a 9-0 run before an and-one from Patton with 4:54 to play in the game got the Lady Mountaineers back on the board. She sank her free throw to complete the 3-point play. Patton finished with a game-high 19 points.
That put the wheels in motion for the comeback. Taylor told the Lady Mountaineers they had to tighten up on defense and not allow any more baskets, as the Lady Jaguars multiple times were able to find open space and drive to the hole for two.
Eastern began the game in a matchup zone defense, but the fourth quarter wasn't the first time Jacksonville came back. The Lady Mountaineers had a 27-17 lead, but the Lady Jaguars went on a 10-0 run, which was capped off on a Malwal bucket in the closing seconds to tie at halftime. Taylor said "a lot" of things were said in the locker room at the half, and Eastern switched to a man-to-man defense in the latter half.
"We had to get out of it (the zone) and go man and try to keep the ball in front of us instead of having to chase it," he said. "Our man actually worked tonight."
The Lady Mountaineers have had to do some adjusting in playing without Tiamya Butler, who was arrested earlier this month on drug charges and suspended indefinitely from the team, the McAlester News-Capital previously reported Nov. 14. Taylor thinks Delcid-Rosado and McGahee have stepped up well in Butler's absence.
"We didn't change anything up, we kept moving forward," Taylor said, saying he told the team not to let small things hinder them.
Eastern will try to make it three in a row on Saturday in the second and final day of the event. The Lady Mountaineers are scheduled to welcome Southern Arkansas University Tech.
What Taylor wants to see is the level of intensity of his players from the beginning of the game to the end of the game. The Lady Mountaineers even have started saying their own hashtag, according to Taylor. They call it #Chaos40.
"We definitely had that saying going tonight," Taylor said. "It got chaotic there within the last two minutes of the fourth quarter."