LA GRANDE — The Eastern Oregon University men’s basketball team picked up easily its biggest win of the season Friday at home, but then followed with perhaps its most gut-wrenching loss.
The Mountaineers led nearly the entire night Friday and held on for an 87-84 victory over fifth-ranked Oregon Tech, then saw a late rally Saturday against No. 15 Southern Oregon fall just short in a 77-73 setback.
“We came into this weekend knowing we had to get two at home,” said Max McCullough, who had 31 points Friday but was limited to 15 Saturday. “We had two good teams coming in, but we felt we should have beat them both. This one hurts. We didn't play quite like we did (Friday) night. We kind of let it slip away there at the end. It hurts, but we gotta come back next week and focus.”
EOU, which entered the weekend with a 3-6 record in the Cascade Collegiate Conference, led nearly wire-to-wire Friday against the Hustlin’ Owls and simply couldn't miss. EOU shot 57% from the floor, 44% from 3-point range. McCullough was 12-for-17 shooting, and Jarek Schetzle, who added 15 points, was 7-for-9 from the floor.
McCullough hit a 3-pointer to cap a 13-0 run and give EOU its largest lead of the first half at 15-3. The Mountaineers built as much as a 17-point lead midway through the second half when McCullough had a basket and two free throws and Landon Jones, who added 15 points and 11 rebounds, also hit two from the charity stripe.
But OIT rallied. Lachlan McKimm's field goal with 4:30 to play trimmed the deficit to 71-63. The lead stayed between six and eight points until a Mitchell Fink field goal made it 81-76 and two free throws later cut the margin to just four with 24 seconds left. Fink, who led all scorers with 38 points, got the Owls as close as 85-84 with a 3-point play with nine seconds remaining, but Jones and McCullough each split a pair of three throws for the final margin.
“They definitely made it interesting,” McCullough said. “We got that lead, and that's been our kryptonite all season. We get a lead and we can’t quite keep it. We knew they would fight back. They have one of the best players in the country in Mitchell Fink. We knew they were going to come back.”
Josh Brown added 16 points for EOU. The Mountaineers top four scorers Friday — McCullough, Schetzle, Jones and Brown — combined to shoot 67%.
EOU and SOU traded the lead back and forth Saturday until the Raiders pulled ahead by 12 midway through the second half, 58-46, on an Aaron Borich 3-pointer. EOU got within 60-56 when Jamal Heckard canned back-to-back 3s from the top of the key to cap a 10-2 run, one he scored eight points during.
Tate Hoffman put the Raiders up 75-68 with three minutes left, but McCullough got loose for a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game, and a putback by Jones cut the deficit to 75-73 with 47 seconds to go.
EOU got a stop on defense after SOU committed an offensive foul, and McCullough got a good look on a baseline runner for the tie with about six seconds left, but the short attempt rimmed out.
“It was kind of a broken play a little bit,” McCullough said of the potential tying shot. “I went and got it, kind of fumbled it, (the defender) was riding me pretty good. I felt I got a pretty clean look at it after that. Sometimes it just doesn't roll your way. Looked like it was going to.”
EOU caught a bad break on the rebound when the ball went out of bounds and was awarded to SOU. Video replay after showed the ball clearly went off of SOU’s Jordan Hunt.
SOU’s Teron Bradford hit two free throws on the other end with 3.8 seconds to go to ice the game.
EOU head coach Carlito Labarda Jr. lamented that his team didn’t get a final opportunity after the missed call, though he said he doesn’t like to blame the officials.
“Maybe they do call it off SOU on that last play and we miss the shot and lose anyway. You don’t know what's going to happen,” he said. “There’s a chance we still would have lost the game, but you get frustrated because you don't get an opportunity, a fair opportunity to try to tie it or win it at the end.”
He said the team’s shooting, which was only 41% Saturday — 11% below the team’s average percentage — was a major difference.
“If we shoot average, we probably win that game. Shooting is a big factor on whether we win or lose,” he said.
Schetzle scored 21 points to lead EOU. Brandon Porter added 12 points, and Heckard scored 11.
Eastern (10-10 overall, 4-7 CCC) visits Warner Pacific Friday.
“We’re still in the thick of things,” Labarda said of the team’s chances of earning a top-four seed in the CCC for the conference tournament. “We are not giving up.”