EOU’s Tony Eackles goes up over an OIT defender in the first half of the Mountaineers’ win Wednesday. CASEY KELLAS/The Observer
by CASEY KELLAS / The Observer
Second-seeded Mountaineers advance to CCC semifinals after victory over OIT
J.D. Esters picked the best time to hit his biggest shot in a Mountaineer uniform.
The junior transfer hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer Wednesday night, lifting the second-seeded Eastern Oregon University men’s basketball team to a 77-75 victory over seventh-seeded Oregon Tech in the opening round of the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament.
“I’ve never had a game-winning shot before,” Esters said.
“We drew it up trying to get to the basket as fast as we can. We had 5 1/2 seconds and we were really trying to get to the (free throw) line.”
Esters’ last-second shot capped a wild back-and-forth game.
After exchanging baskets early on, the Mountaineers turned a 9-8 lead into a 31-16 advantage with 8:13 left in the first half.
But OIT ratcheted up its defense and started to find its offense from there, as the Owls closed the half on a 17-2 run to go into halftime tied up at 33-all.
“We had a really hard time scoring there after the first 10 minutes,” EOU head coach Isaac Williams said.
“We were really efficient for 10 (minutes) and then they did a really good job defensively. And then they hit shots. What it came down to was their guys made shots on offense.”
Eastern Oregon reestablished itself early in the second half, going up by five points four minutes in.
But Oregon Tech tightened up defensively again, forcing the Mountaineers into a lull on offense.
With the Mountaineers leading by four (52-48) with 12:07 to play, OIT went on a 19-7 run to take a 67-59 lead with 5:47 to play.
That’s when it became the Jason Mumm show.
Mumm scored eight of the Mountaineers’ next 10 points to cap a 10-1 run that put EOU in front, 69-68, with 2:23 to go in regulation.
“Mumm was huge. We knew that the way they were defending us that we could get the ball down to him,” Williams said.
“We actually at one point said that we weren’t going to let anyone shoot but (Mumm) unless he passed it to you. And he just didn’t miss during that stretch. He really got us to the point where we could win the game.”
The teams exchanged the lead twice more before Oregon Tech took over with 17 seconds left trailing 74-72.
After an OIT and EOU timeout, the Owls finally got the ball in and found Kyle Waits at the top of the 3-point line, where he connected with 5.3 seconds left to put Oregon Tech on top, 75-74.
EOU had to go the length of the floor, and Cody Thurmond dribbled to midcourt before finding Esters on the left side of the arch.
That’s when Esters sent Quinn Coliseum into pandemonium.
“Cody just made the right play,” Esters said.
“He passed it out because he had three dudes around him. I had to put it up, and luckily it went in.”
Williams didn’t take any credit for his team’s last-second heroics.
“Credit OIT for making the shot at the end to put them up one. And then, just a great big gut check for J.D. making that shot.
“There’s no good coaching that happened,” Williams said. “That’s just a guy who made a play.”
Mumm finished with a game-high 21 points, while Trent Roos added 18 points and eight rebounds. Zach Anderson chipped in nine points, and Anthony Brown had seven points.
Waits led OIT with 17 points, while Derek Evans and Brandon Bautista each had 11 points.
After a pair of last-second losses in the last week-and-a-half, Williams thinks this win will go a long way for his guys.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs. And having lost two games in that exact same scenario, and now to come back and win and be on the other side of it, I think could really jumpstart the postseason for us,” Williams said.
The Mountaineers will now host third-seeded and 18th-ranked Southern Oregon Saturday in the semifinals of the CCC tournament.
The Raiders defeated Concordia, 100-88, Wednesday night. EOU and SOU split their two regular-season match-ups, with each team winning on its home floor.
Saturday’s game tips off at 7 p.m. at Quinn Coliseum.
Other Cascade Conference scores from Wednesday night had top-seeded Warner Pacific defeat Corban, 65-60, while fifth-seeded Northwest upset fourth-seeded College of Idaho, 69-67. Northwest will travel to take on Warner Pacific Saturday night in the other semifinal match-up.