By George Morse
Española, N.M. – It was a game that gave Northern New Mexico College basketball fans all they could ask for – except for the ending. Taking on NAIA Division One Oklahoma City University, the Eagles kept fans on the edge of their seats in a double-overtime thriller Oct. 26 at Eagle Memorial Gym in Espanola.
The score was tied 54-54 at the end of regulation and the score remained tied 62-62 at the end of the first overtime. In the second overtime, Northern’s Naquwan Solomon went to the free-throw line with the Eagles trailing 74-73 and three seconds left to play.
Solomon’s first free throw had fans groaning as it bounced high off the back of the iron. The ball came down on the rim, danced around the basket and fell through the net, turning the groans into cheers. Solomon’s second free throw hit nothing but net, giving the Eagles a 75-74 lead.
Oklahoma City inbounded the ball to guard Rashaun Coleman, who drove downcourt. Just past the midcourt line, he let fly a high, arching shot that was still in the air when the buzzer went off. Miraculously, it fell through the basket to give Oklahoma City a 77-75 victory.
“It was a great game for the fans,” Northern Coach Ryan Cordova said. “We had fun. I’ve been telling them don’t put so much pressure on yourselves. We want to get better each game and we did tonight.”
There was a good crowd on hand for the game. In the first half, a combination of tight defense and poor shooting by the Stars helped the Eagles take a 26-20 lead. Oklahoma City sank just 6-of-20 from the floor and was just 1-of-10 from beyond the three-point arc.
Northern took an 18-17 lead with3:18 left in the first half and extended it to 21-17 when Reyes Herrera banked in a three-pointer from the top of the key. Oklahoma City cut the lead to 21-20 on a free throw and a basket by Darrion Willies. A short jumper in the lane by Jeremy Anaya and a three-pointer by Tyrique Weaver gave Northern a 26-20 lead at halftime.
The Stars found their range in the second half. Northern led 33-27 when Kealon Clayborne hit the first of three three-pointers that helped put Oklahoma City ahead 40-35 midway through the second half.
Northern fought its was back. With 5:22 left in regulation, a driving layup by Solomon on which he was fouled led to an old-fashioned, three-point play that gave Northern a 45-43 lead. The teams traded baskets. With 2:34 left in regulation, a three-pointer by Anthony Davis and a pair of free throws by Eric Wattree gave the Stars a 54-49 lead.
Weaver canned a three-pointer to make the score 54-52, then Alexander O’Guinn scored to tie the score, but missed a free throw that would have given Northern the lead. With 1:03 left, Solomon missed two free throws that again could have given the Eagles the lead. Oklahoma City worked the ball to Clayborne for what looked like an open three in the corner. Northern’s Estevan Martinez flashed in, blocked the shot and grabbed the ball out of the air. The score was tied 54-54 at the end of regulation.
In the first overtime, Northern took a 58-56 lead on a driving layup by Bruno Guedes, Wattree answered with a three-pointer to put Oklahoma City ahead by a point. Another three-pointer by Davis gave the Stars a 62-58 lead with 49 seconds left. Northern’s Estevan Martinez canned two free throws with 39 seconds left. Martinez then sank a floater to tie the score 62 -62 with seven seconds left. The game went into a second overtime.
In the second overtime, Clayborne’s fourth three-pointer of the game and a baseline drive by Coleman gave the Stars a 72-68 lead. Northern fought back. A free throw by Martinez made the score 72-71 and Northern forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play with 29 seconds left to play. Solomon scored to give Northern a 73-72 lead.
Willies scored for the Stars to give Oklahoma City a 74-73 lead. Solomon was fouled going to the basket and after his two free throws was when Coleman nailed his dramatic game-winning shot for the Stars.
After their terrible first half shooting the ball, the Stars were on fire in the second half and overtime. Oklahoma City hit 21-of-35 shots from the floor and was 9-of-15 from beyond the three-point arc in the second half and two overtimes. Coleman and Davis each scored 18 points to lead Oklahoma City. Willies had 17 points and Clayborne 13 points for the Stars.
Solomon led all scorers with 23 points. Weaver finished with 19 points and Martinez had 13 points for the Eagles. Northern was just 17 of 42 from the floor and 5-of-21 from beyond the three-point arc.
Despite the tough loss, Coach Cordova was excited about the team he saw giving Oklahoma City all it could handle.
Northern had lost its opening game of the season 83-74 to University of the Southwest Oct. 25 in Espanola.
The Eagles are back at home this week hosting two (2) games, Friday against Western New Mexico University and Saturday against Fort Lewis College. Tip-off time for each game is scheduled for 7:00 P.M.