By: Sean Ditmore
The #19 Wayland Pioneers were defeated Thursday night by the #9 Oklahoma City Stars 75-70 in a tense game at the Hutcherson Center.
The loss all but mathematically eliminates the Pioneers from contention for the regular season Sooner Athletic Conference Championship.
The Pioneers (16-10, 12-7) made a valiant effort but fell just short in their attempt to overcome a 15 point, 52-37, second half deficit against the Stars (20-7, 15-4).
After a late run got the Pioneers back into the game, with 57 seconds left and down by four, Wayland forced Oklahoma City into a five-second violation as they attempted to inbound the ball from their own back-court.
Then, Pioneer senior Michal Polanowski laid the ball in from underneath the basket to cut the Stars’ lead to 72-70 with 55 seconds remaining.
On that night that would be as close as the Pioneers could get. Oklahoma City’s senior guard Kameron Gray, who finished a sensational effort with 20 points and nine assists, made a pair of free throws on the Stars’ ensuing possession to make the score 74-70.
After the Pioneers failed to score on their next possession, the Stars’ senior forward Ronald Taylor hit one of his two free throws to finish all scoring.
The game was an important one for both teams and the crowd was raucous.
Wayland began the game spurred by the play of junior wing Lee Berend. Berend drilled a pair of three pointers from the top of the key, and took a charge on what looked to be an early fast-break opportunity for Oklahoma City. The Pioneers were able to bolt out to an early 15-7 lead.
Oklahoma City outscored the Pioneers 29-16 over the remainder of the half and took a 37-31 lead into the intermission.
The Stars opened the second half with a 13-4 run.
With 5:22 left to play and Oklahoma City leading 63-54, Taylor argued a personal foul call and was assessed a technical foul. It sent Wayland’s senior point guard Kris Hatley to the line for four free-throws. He made all of them, shifting the momentum back towards the Pioneers.
However, until Polanowski’s lay-in, the Pioneers could not get any closer than to within three.
The final outcome was determined in large measure behind the three-point line. While the Stars were 7-16 from beyond the arc, the Pioneers were only 3-11 and did not make a three-pointer for the last 30 minutes of the game.
Pioneer Coach Robert Davenport also believed that some of the officiating was questionable.
“I’m very frustrated,” Wayland coach Robert Davenport said afterwards. “We outworked them, and I feel like we outplayed them.
“I’m not disappointed in our kids, because they worked their tails off. We had some calls that went against us there at the end, and some others that weren’t called that should have been, and I think that is what made the difference.”
Storey finished with an impressive 18 points and 19 rebounds. He also dished out 4 assists and made numerous hustle plays for the Pioneers. It was his 16th double-double of the season.
Hatley had 13 points, and senior Tony Jones put up 12 points of his own for Wayland.
The Pioneers received a critical boost off the bench from senior B.J. Latham. Latham was 3 for 4 from the field, good for 8 points to go along with 5 rebounds.
“B.J. played well, he came in and did some good things,” Davenport said.
Besides the talented Gray, the Stars were led by seniors Willie Irick and Ollie Bailey who scored 18 and 17 points respectively.
Oklahoma City won the first meeting between the two squads back in January, 74-63.
The Pioneers are now in third place in the SAC as they trail Southern Nazarene and Oklahoma City by 3 games, with only 3 games to go.