Pioneers fall to E. Oklahoma

Pioneers fall to E. Oklahoma
In the span of 94 seconds, Spartanburg Methodist saw its national championship hopes disappear.

East Oklahoma closed out the final minute of the first half Wednesday with nine unanswered points. The Mountaineers opened the second half with a quick hoop to end the run.

That proved to be the fuel in a 78-70 NJCAA quarterfinal victory over the Pioneers that propelled Eastern Oklahoma into Friday's national semifinals against unbeaten South Plains.

"We have climbed a lot of mountains this year," said Eastern Oklahoma coach Scott Edgar. "We climbed a mountain on the first night by beating the defending champion. We're going to have to climb another mountain on Friday."

The Eastern Oklahoma victory overshadowed an amazing individual effort by Spartanburg forward Ronnell Crockett, who scored 27 points and pulled down 24 rebounds, which tied him for the fourth most in tournament history.

"I'd rather have the win any day over my stats," Crockett said. "I wanted to do my best to put my team in a position to win the game."

He did, but not until Eastern Oklahoma's lead grew to 20 points midway through the second half. That's when Spartanburg began chipping away at the lead. The Pioneers got to within six points with two minutes to play but could never get any closer.

The damage had been done several minutes earlier.

The Mountaineers' final-minute magic came late in the first half after the two teams jostled with the lead over five-minute period. In that span, the lead changed hands three times and the score was tied three times.

But Marcus Tarrance broke a 28-28 deadlock with two free throws. After a defensive stop, Tarrance hit two more free throws, which led to a steal and a put-back basket by Rod Lewis that made it 34-28.

The Mountaineers made another steal and played for a last shot, which Therone Chilton drained from beyond the arc at the buzzer to close out the 9-0 run and give Eastern Oklahoma a 37-28 lead.

"That was huge," Edgar said. "We made some shots and made some plays. We put the ball in the basket. I told our guys not to get discouraged if it doesn't happen right away. You have to be patient and disciplined and confident that you're going to get your spurts."

A pretty reverse layup by Chilton on the first possession of the second half made it 39-28 and epitomized the quick-strike potency the Mountaineers have shown in two games thus far.

If there is a weakness, it could be on the boards, where Eastern Oklahoma was outrebounded, 57-36.

There's no denying the Mountaineers' quickness, which led to some transition baskets. They kept applying pressure throughout the second half and continued growing their lead. At one point, Tarrance scored 10 straight points for his team and seven straight outright.

With 9:55 to play, the lead grew to its apex - 61-41 - on a free throw by Mikel Tarrance. It appeared the game was on the verge of a blowout when Spartanburg began chipping away at the lead.

"We never give up when there is time on the clock," Crockett said. "We stayed together. When we got it down to six, it was a big confidence-booster."