By BEN JOHNSON
Northeastern State made sure the final game in Jack Dobbins Field House wasn’t a loss. Bryton Hobbs saw to it.
Hobbs scored a game-high 22 points — and nearly missed having a triple-double with nine rebounds and eight assists — as the RiverHawks held off a feisty Central Oklahoma club, 83-71, in overtime on Wednesday night.
“I BELIEVE THAT WE JUST WON. I BELIEVE THAT WE JUST WON,” were the final words shouted from the student section as time ticked away in overtime. That was followed by the students rushing the floor to celebrate with the NSU players.
It was a magical evening at the glorious venue named after a legendary coach.
“That put a cap on what was a great evening for Northeastern State,” NSU coach Larry Gipson said to sum it up perfectly.
That’s because Hobbs took over during extra time. The 6-foot junior from Saint Louis scored eight during overtime, and none were bigger than the two that came following his spin move in the lane that resulted in a layup to give a 78-71 edge with 1:24 to go.
“I know my team needed me down the stretch,” said Hobbs, who finished 7 of 19 from the floor and 8 of 8 from the free-throw line. “...I knew I had to make a play for my team.”
The crowd went into a frenzy following Hobb’s final field goal of the night. And the celebration was on among the 1,224 frenzied fans in attendance.
“Bryton Hobbs is a big-game player,” said Gipson, whose team improved to 19-7 overall and 12-6 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association while pulling off a season sweep of the Bronchos.
“He saved us in numerous games down the stretch. I think he has the will to win, and he has the ability to make plays. And I think you saw that tonight.”
UCO’s only points during overtime came on Jamell Cormier’s old-fashioned 3-point play, which cut NSU’s lead to 74-71 with 2:41 left. The RiverHawks, though, would end up scoring the final nine points of the contest.
Adding to NSU’s offensive firepower was Jermaine Bransford, who had 18 points, thanks to a 10-of-14 effort at the free-throw line. Ethan Anderson, who had 12 points before the game was six minutes old, finished with 17 points, and Landon DeMasters added 11 points.
For six NSU seniors (Jon Miller, Anderson, Bransford, Zach Jones, John Schneider, Christian Mack), it was a night they won’t soon forget with countless numbers of NSU legends in the building.
“Our six seniors, to bounce back from a five-win season a year ago, and to come through like they did tonight, our seniors deserve a lot of credit,” Gipson said. “You go in this league, and this league is a very, very tough league. And to finish with 12 league wins and 19 wins overall, that’s a big accomplishment.”
Hobbs will return for the RiverHawks next season. But there’s a decent chance he won’t be carried off the court on the shoulders of adoring fans.
“That was the first time I ever been carried off any type of court,” said Hobbs, whose team shot 45 percent (27 of 60) from the field for the game and 5 of 6 from the floor in overtime. “At first, when they picked me up, I was like, ‘please, put me down or don’t drop me. One of the two.’”
The Bronchos (12-13, 10-7), led by Spencer Smith’s 21 points and eight rebounds, were doomed by a 1-of-8 shooting performance from the field in overtime. Cormier and Josh Gibbs also scored in double figures for UCO with 19 and 18 points, respectively.
Bransford etched himself into the record books with the final technical foul in the venue. However, it was coupled with an offensive foul, and the senior from Sand Springs fouled out with 4:34 to play and NSU nursing a 64-62 lead.
Smith knotted the game up with two free throws, and NSU’s Schneider followed with a jumper to help NSU reclaim a two-point edge.
That’s when Gibbs buried a go-ahead 3-pointer for the Bronchos.
UCO would cling to a two-point advantage for several minutes until Landon DeMasters tied the game up with a running jumper with 13 seconds left. He missed the free throw, allowing the Bronchos one last chance to win the game.
Jamell Cormier followed with an errant shot for the Bronchos, which morphed into a turnover when it hit the backboard support out of bounds.
After a timeout, Hobbs nearly recorded a halfcourt shot as the final made basket in the arena. However, Hobbs’ heave rimmed out as the buzzer sounded and ended regulation.
“I just threw it up,” Hobbs said, “praying it went in.”
Despite a momentum-boosting victory to end the regular season, NSU is still unsure of where it’ll end up in the league standings. Games by Washburn, Fort Hays State, Pittsburg State and Northeast Missouri State will determine how things shake out.
“We’re at the mercy of what other people do now,” said Gipson, whose team has at least wrapped up a spot in the MIAA tournament. “We could finish as high as (second) and as low down as sixth, by my reckoning. I’ll wake up and start thinking about it.”
NSU (women) 64, UCO 58
Sarah Green held her own underneath the basket and grabbed an offensive rebound. Twenty-four seconds later, Taylor Lewis buried a 3-pointer. Mere seconds after that, Tosha Tyler nearly tackled Lewis after her big shot.
It was a memorable sequence on a special night for NSU’s three seniors.
Lewis’ trey gave the RiverHawks a six-point lead, and they would eventually wind up with a victory in their regular-season finale.
“She hit it in that girl’s face, too,” Tyler said of Lewis’ clutch 3-pointer. “That’s what made it even better.”
Tyler did most of the heavy lifting throughout, scoring a game-high 21 points on 7 of 12 shooting. The senior from Vinita was also 3 of 5 from deep and a perfect 4 of 4 from the free-throw line.
“Tonight was a night where I was actually hitting my shots,” said Tyler, who along with Lewis and Green capped a 46-3 record at home during their four-year tenure in Tahlequah.
With the victory, the RiverHawks (19-7, 14-4 MIAA) — ranked ninth in the Central Region rankings — clinched the No. 3 seed in next week’s MIAA tournament.
“Besides trying to win the league championship, that’s the next most important thing,” NSU coach Randy Gipson said. “We’ve put ourselves in a good position now to where we can have some time to really prepare for this tournament.”
NSU nearly went into next week’s conference tournament in Kansas City, Mo., on a sour note.
UCO — despite entering on a four-game losing streak while sitting at second to last in the league — had every intention of ruining the festivities. Alyssa Fuxa buried a jumper for the Bronchos (9-16, 2-15) with 4:00 to play, giving UCO its final lead at 56-55.
However, NSU responded with nine straight points until Savannah Hamilton hit a meaningless jumper for the Bronchos as time expired.
“A lot of credit goes to UCO,” Tyler said of the Bronchos, which owned a 10-point lead with 7:46 left to play in the first half. “They definitely came here with their minds set on an upset.”
Taylor Lewis, the MIAA’s second-leading scorer coming in, provided 15 points and seven rebounds for the RiverHawks. Chelsey Stricklen also came off the bench and scored all nine of her points in the second half.
“Chelsey Stricklen hit a big basket,” Gipson said of Stricklen’s jumper that gave NSU a 59-56 lead with 1:51 to play. “Fittingly, Taylor Lewis, with the career she’s had here, hits the big shot to kind of ice the game for us.”
Fuxa paced the Bronchos with 14 points, 10 of which came in the opening half. Britney Morgan added 12 points to the losing cause, and Copan native Jill Bryan tossed in 11 points for UCO.
NSU (men) 83, UCO 71 OT
UCO 42 26 3 — 71
NSU 38 30 15 — 83
UCO (12-13, 10-7): Spencer Smith 21, Jamell Cormier 19, Josh Gibbs 18, Carter 5, Huffman 5, Andrews 3.
NSU (19-7, 12-6): Bryton Hobbs 22, Jermaine Bransford 18, Anderson 17, DeMasters 11, Schneider 9, Mack 4, Sheppard 2.
NSU (women) 64, UCO 58
UCO 29 29 -- 58
NSU 27 37 -- 64
UCO (9-16, 2-15): Alyssa Fuxa 14, Britney Moran 12, Jill Bryan 11, Solberg 7, Hamilton 6, Dunn 5, New 3.
NSU (19-7, 14-4): Tosha Tyler 21, Taylor Lewis 15, Chelsey Stricklen 9, Tate 7, Green 6, Fox 4, Jones 2.