By Michael Stewart, Assistant Sports Editor
The Oklahoma Baptist Men’s and Women’s basketball teams have had a busy start to the new year. Both teams found success throughout the month of January, setting the teams up for a compelling end of the season.
The Lady Bison saw senior Autumn Avina named U.S. Basketball Writers Association Women’s Division II National Player of the Week for the week ending January 6.
“Being named Division II Player of the Week was a blessing and something I will never forget,” Avina said. “My team helped me accomplish this goal and had my back the whole way.”
Additionally, the senior guard from Austin, Texas was named GAC Player of the Week for the same week. She averaged 19.0 points, 7.5 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 steals for the week, including a triple-double. Not only did she fill up the stat sheet, she did so efficiently, shooting the ball 50 percent (17-of-34) from the field, including 57.1 percent (4-of-7) from three-point range.
The Lady Bison headed into the last week of January 4-4 on the month. The team ended the month on a road trip to Arkadelphia, AR to face-off against GAC opponents Ouachita Baptist Thursday, January 31 and Henderson State Saturday, February 2.
“We knew we had to expect some very competitive matchups,” Avina said. “Everyone is hungry for wins and now that we are in the second round of conference everyone is looking to play for March.”
In the first game, the Lady Bison set the tone early, earning a 24-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“We came out firing and had a great start,” senior Katy Custer said.” We executed the game plan in the first quarter.”
Unfortunately, over the next three quarters, the Lady Bison saw their lead diminish until they found themselves down in the third quarter. The fourth quarter turned into a defensive battle, but the Lady Bison couldn’t fight their way back into the game. They would eventually fall to Ouachita Baptist 70-59.
“There was a momentum shift with about 3 minutes left in the second quarter and it felt like we never got it back,” Custer said. “Everyone fought hard, but it was definitely a frustrating one.”
Custer managed 12 points in the loss, becoming the 29th OBU player to reach 1,000 points in her career. Also, junior Victoria Blankenship finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds for her sixth double-double of the season and Avina added 10 points and 11 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season.
With a bitter taste in their mouths from Thursday’s loss, the Lady Bison turned their attention to their next matchup with Henderson State on Saturday.
“We definitely were looking forward to the game against HSU,” Custer said. “HSU is one of the top 3-point shooting teams in our conference, so we knew we had to come out focused.”
Once again, the Lady Bison found success in the first quarter; however, they found themselves in a deep hole by halftime, down 13 points. Henderson State came out in the second half firing on all cylinders to make sure OBU couldn’t dig themselves out of that hole. Despite a decent push by OBU in the fourth quarter, it was too little too late as they would fall 73-64 for their second straight conference defeat.
“Although we lost, I think there are several positives that we can take away from the performance,” senior Alexa Richards said. “We cut a 23-point deficit to 9 points, and we proved to ourselves that if we simply stick together like we did in the end then we can win tough games.”
Blankenship led OBU with 21 points and 11 rebounds earning another double-double. OBU also got double-figure scoring from freshman Charissa Price with 16 points, Avina added 15 points, and Custer added 12 points.
The loss moved OBU to 9-11 overall and 5-9 in the GAC.
For the Bison, freshman Brantly Thompson was recognized as the GAC Men’s Basketball Player of the week for the week ending January 13. Thompson averaged 19.5 points and 5.5 rebounds for the week, helping the Bison secure the top spot in the GAC standings.
To end the month of January, OBU also traveled to Arkadelphia for a pair of difficult road tests against Ouachita and Henderson State. OBU entered the first matchup against Ouachita sitting atop of the GAC standings and surging on a three-game winning streak.
“We have the number one spot that everyone is racing for,” senior Antonio Wade said. “We are expecting every teams best shot.”
Well, that’s exactly what they got from Ouachita. Despite racking up a 7-point halftime lead, the Bison were unable to withstand a 50 point second-half from Ouachita. OBU would lose a close one, 77-71. The Bison’s three-game winning streak would be snapped, and they would be bumped into a tie for second place in the GAC.
“We missed a lot of shots we usually make which was a big factor in the game,” sophomore Harrison Stoddart said. “I feel like we played great tonight on the road, our shots just would not fall.”
Stoddard led OBU with 21 points on the night. Also, freshman Mohammed Abubakar added 13 points and Wade and senior Julian Daughtry added 10 apiece.
Looking to bounce back, the Bison squared off against Henderson State two days later.
“We knew we would have to keep fighting through the adversity,” Stoddart said. “We wanted to stay focused as a team and fight together.”
The Bison sputtered out of the starting blocks against Henderson State and found themselves fighting from behind the rest of the way. OBU found itself down 21-6 after the first eight minutes of play. Despite the slow start, the Bison were able to cut the deficit to 7 points two different times. However, the Bison could never fully recover from their slow start, eventually falling to Henderson State 66-57.
“The tough truth is that mediocrity cannot win tough games on the road,” Wade said. “We are learning what it takes to win on the road when the odds are stacked against us. Every loss we learn more about ourselves.”
Wade led the team with 17 points and Thompson added 13 points of his own. The loss moved OBU to sole owners of the third-place mark in the GAC.
“This team is incredibly resilient,” Wade said. “This team has set the bar for success and we are constantly pursuing that everyday regardless of the obstacles we face.”
The Bison currently hold an overall record of 11-9 and a 10-4 GAC record. With the Great American Conference postseason push heating up, the next few games are going to be pivotal.
Both the Bison and Lady Bison will travel to Durant, OK Thursday, February 7 looking to bounce back against Southeastern Oklahoma State University. After, they will be welcoming Southwestern Oklahoma State University to the Noble Complex Saturday, February 9.
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