College of the Ozarks Bobcats and the Red Lions of Lincoln Christian University faced off on Saturday in the semi-finals of he A.I.I. Conference Championship tournament. It was a hard-fought battle, but the Bobcats secured the victory, 69-64.
The two teams opened the game with a couple of turnovers before the scoring barrage began. C of O senior Brandt Cochran hit a two-pointer to open the scoring and Garrett Aeilts (LCU) responded with a three-point basket. Cochran answered with a three of his own, and Aeilts came back with another. The two teams were tied at 15 apiece when Treydon Rackley scored to give the Bobcats the lead. The lead was short-lived, as LCU responded by going on an 18-6 run to take a 10-point asvantage with 5:27 remaining in the half. Cochran made a two-point shot to pull the Bobcats within eight points at the half, and C of O headed into the locker trailing 23-31. Aeilts led all scorers with 16, and Cochran recorded 12. LCU shot 23-54 (40.7%) from the field and drained 7 of 14 (50%) three-point shots. The Bobcats made only 9 of 28 shots from the field (32.1%) and were 2 for 11 (18.2%) from beyond the three-point arc.
Following the break, the Bobcats continued to struggle, as LCU shot well in the first 10 minutes, taking a 15-point lead with 9:38 to play. The Bobcats were not ready to give up, however. Freshman Andrew Mitchell drained a three pointer to begin a 14-0 Bobcat run that would feature three treys by Mitchell and a two- and three-point basket by junior Treydon Rackley. The Bobcats now trailed by only one point, 56-57, with 6:28 to play. The two teams battled back and forth until the 2:18 mark, when Bobcat Trey Gibson made a basket to take a lead the Cats would not relinquish. Although it would be tense right down to the last few seconds of the game, a pair of free throws made by Cochran and two more by Ayden Stone added some insurance, and the Cats proceeded to close out the game with a 69-64 victory.
For the game, the Bobcats were led by Cochran with 21 points and three assists. Joining him in double-digit scoring were Rackley and Mitchell with 16 points apiece. Stone hauled down a game-leading 13 rebounds and blocked two shots. As a team, the Bobcats shot 44.6% from the field and out-rebounded LCU, 37-26. The Red Lions were led by Garrett Aeilts, who tallied a game-leading 27 points on 8-15 shooting, including seven three pointers.
Saturday’s win was #20 for the Bobcats. They will take the court on Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m. against host Lincoln College for the A.I.I. Men’s Conference Championship game. With Saturday’s win, the Bobcats have automatically punched their ticket to the NAIA DII Men’s Basketball National Championship.