College of the Ozarks men’s basketball (#4 seed) defeated Haskell Indian Nations University (#5 seed) in the opening round of the A.I.I. Conference Tournament on Friday, 71-68.
Haskell started the back-and-forth action scoring the opening bucket from the block after an early offensive rebound. The Bobcats wasted no time striking back after a give-and-go between Brandt Cochran and Ethan Davidson that resulted in an old-fashioned three-point play for Cochran. This lead change would be the first of nine on the night and the game featured an additional nine ties.
It wasn’t until late in the first half that the Bobcats found some breathing room, fueling their run from success at the charity stripe. C of O converted on 12 of 16 free throws for the half, compared to just 4 free-throws made for Haskell. A pair of Ethan Davidson free-throws gave the Bobcats their largest lead of the game at nine with just over two minutes remaining in the first half. Haskell immediately cut the lead back to six after a made three-point basket by Bryon Elledge, Haskell’s leading scorer on the evening with 18 points. The Bobcat lead remained at six going into halftime, 36-30. C of O finished the half with just one turnover and held Haskell to 32% shooting from the field.
Haskell opened the second half pounding the offensive boards, grinding away the Bobcat lead to a tie with 10 minutes remaining. On the ensuing Haskell possession, the Bobcats mixed-in some zone defense to cause a HINU turnover. Bobcat Klay Barton used a ball-screen, driving to his left for a bucket, plus a free throw to push the Bobcat lead back to four. However, Haskell would not go away, tying the game three more times including a three-point shot by Xavier Littlehead with just 12 seconds remaining. The Bobcats immediately inbounded the ball to Brandt Cochran who drove the length of the court into the paint for a kickout three-point bomb by Heath Carmichael with just 2.9 seconds left, which proved to be the game winner.
College of the Ozarks finished the game just 42% from the field and 30% behind the arc. However, the Bobcat defense held Haskell to 41% from the field and 25% from downtown. C of O won the turnover battle by two, committing just eight miscues. While Haskell did edge out C of O on the boards, 42-34, the Bobcats won the battle by being aggressive offensively and getting to the free throw line. For the game, the Bobcats made 23-29 free throws compared to just 7-9 for Haskell.
Not only did Heath Carmichael hit the game winner, he led the Bobcats in scoring with 18 points. Brandt Cochran added 15. Ethan Davidson scored nine of his 14 points for the game from the free throw line. Klay Barton chipped in nine points off the bench.
With the win, the Bobcats have advanced to the quarterfinals to take on the number one seed Indiana University Northwest tomorrow (Saturday, February 22) at 5:30 PM.