Not even the No. 1-ranked team in the nation is safe coming into Wilson Field House.
Ottawa University’s home court was rocking Wednesday, the final time this season the Braves will play there. Representing the cream of the crop of the NAIA, No. 1 Oklahoma Wesleyan came in riding a 10-game win streak. That was subsequently shattered after 45 minutes of intense college basketball. The Braves finish with a home record of 12-2 following a 104-102 overtime victory against the best of the best.
“We won and that is awesome, but what great college basketball game,” Aaron Siebenthall, OU head men’s basketball coach, said. “That was a heavyweight championship fight with people throwing haymakers. We had to play a near perfect game to beat them. I don’t think we were perfect, but we played really hard for 45 minutes. Even when we got down 10-0 we played super hard and stayed together. We had guys step up and make shots that aren’t ‘shooters.’ It was a great team effort and I’m super happy for our guys.”
OKWU jumped out to a 10-0 lead less than three minutes into the contest. That would be the largest advantage either squad had.
Ryan Haskins gave Ottawa an eight-point lead (41-33) with a three-pointer at the 5:27 mark in the first half, but an 18-6 run by the Eagles put them up 51-47 at the half. Oklahoma Wesleyan did not trail in the second half until OU’s Mason McDow scored to tie it and Darryl Bowie followed up with a basket at the 3:15 mark to make it 85-83 Braves.
OKWU’s Jake Feickert hit a huge three with 46 seconds left that tied the game, 89-89. Ottawa senior Isaiah Palmer hit a pair of free throws with 31 seconds left, and OKWU’s KJ Malveau answered with a pair of foul shots of his own five seconds later after a foul was called on Haskins. Ottawa had the final possession, but a three put up by Palmer missed and the game went to overtime.
The Braves made a huge defensive stop with 30 seconds left in overtime. Following big three-point buckets by Bowie and Jackson Mallory earlier in the period, OU forced misses by Joshua Wilchombe and Malveau after an OKWU offensive rebound. McDow came up with the ball after a block, and the Braves had possession with a 99-98 lead. Bowie was sent to the line with 15 seconds left, where he made both shots. Malveau countered with a pair of free throws four seconds later. Haskins was sent to the line with eight seconds left, where he made both shots to make it 103-100. Malveau was fouled again and made both shots again with six seconds left. Ottawa whittled down the time to two seconds with a pass ahead to Mallory who gave it off to Haskins. The junior from Osage City hit one of two free throws to push the lead to 104-102. Oklahoma Wesleyan’s ensuing inbounds pass went awry and time expired, leading to a court-storming by OU students and fans.
“What an atmosphere,” Siebenthall said. “I have to give a shout out to our students. We have a saying that ‘Braves support Braves.’ Everybody here is pretty much an athlete so everybody goes to everybody’s games. Special shoutout to the football team and the football coaches who rallied their guys. That is a big mass of humanity there. When they show up in force, it matters. I need to give a special shoutout to my wife who has the best cheer and dance program in the conference by far and they show up in mass, and they kind of keep the chaos loosely organized with the student section and everything. You put those things together and it is just a hell of an atmosphere.”
Palmer was honored at the beginning of the game for becoming the 26th player in Braves history to reach the 1,000-career point mark. He celebrated by adding 23 points to his total against OKWU, and notching his 11th double-double of the season with 10 rebounds. Bowie led Ottawa in scoring off the bench with a career-high 25 points on 9-13 shooting.
Malveau led the Eagles with 31 points. Oklahoma Wesleyan got off 86 shots in the game, 20 more than Ottawa, but shot 38.4 percent (33-86) from the field. That was down from the team’s season mark of 46 percent.
Ottawa finished shooting 47 percent from the field (31-66), including 47.2 percent from three-point range (17-36) and 25-31 from the foul line.
With one of the biggest regular season wins in program history under their belt, the Braves (17-12, 14-9 KCAC) turn their focus to the season finale 5 p.m. today against the University of Saint Mary (12-16, 12-11 KCAC) in Leavenworth.
“This is important for this team this year for getting going and playing well into the [conference] tournament, but this is also a good win for our program,” Siebenthall said Wednesday after the OKWU victory. “If we can build on this even a year or two down the road, I mean this is something we can hang our hat on and recruit too. It is a great win and we are going to enjoy the heck out of it. Usually, we just enjoy [a win] for one day, but we might enjoy this one for two and worry about Saint Mary after that.”
Ottawa (104) - Bowie 25, Palmer 23, Haskins 15, Mallory 14, McDow 11, Greisen 8, Baldeh 8.
OKWU (102) - Malveau 31, Wilchombe 19, Tipton 13, Feickert 12, Haddock 12, Rowe 9, Lawrence 6.