GRAYSON, KY - The OCU Trailblazers won their fifth straight Mid-East Region Championship on Saturday, defeating Kentucky Christian University 87-85 in a thrilling overtime finish.
The host Knights struck first, taking an early 9-4 lead on a basket by Dylan Genung at the 15:26 mark. OCU and KCU would then battle back and forth over the next 11 minutes with 5 ties and 7 lead changes.
With 3:53 remaining and trailing 34-33, the Trailblazers sent Ernie McCoy, Nic Baker, and Kris Carius into the game. The lineup change triggered a 14-4 run by OCU in the final four minutes of the half. Wesley Russell scored 8 of the 14 points during the run to give the Blazers a boost and a 47-38 lead at the break.
Ohio Christian pushed their lead to double digits on five different occassions in the second half but could not put KCU away. A layup by Ernie McCoy with 3:30 remaining in regulation gave OCU a 72-66 lead. KCU refused to go quietly, and answered back with a basket by Caleb Ford with 1:05 remaining in regulation to cut the OCU lead to 2 points at 74-72. Ford then knocked down a pair of free throws with 25 seconds remaining to tie the score at 74-74. The Trailblazers had the ball at the end of regulation but were unable to convert and the buzzer sounded, signaling overtime.
After trading baskets with KCU, the Blazers clung to an 82-81 lead with 2:30 remaining in overtime. Wesley Russell then drove to the basket and found Kris Carius for the layup to push the lead to 84-81. On the ensuing OCU possession, Russell drove to the right side and pulled up for a fifteen foot jump shot. Russell knocked down the shot and was fouled, eventually converting the old fashioned three point play to give OCU an 87-81 lead.
KCU answered back with a free three by Genung to trim the lead to 87-82. After OCU missed a three point attempt, the Knights used a Trevor Hunt three pointer with 46.4 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 87-85. The Blazers drove the ball to the basket on their final possession but were called for an offensive foul, giving the ball back to KCU with 25 seconds left.
KCU inbounded the ball for their final possession and after working the ball on the perimeter it appeared that OCU freshman, Nic Baker, came up with a clutch steal with 11 seconds remaining. The official ruled the play a kicked ball and gave possession back to KCU. The Knights inbounded again and worked the ball to the right side, pulling up for a jump shot with 4 seconds remaining. The shot was well short but was caught by Caleb Ford with 1.4 seconds left. Ford scooped up the ball and attempted a reverse layup that hit the backboard and rimmed out as the buzzer sounded, giving OCU a dramatic win.
OCU was led by Wesley Russell with a game-high 29 points. Ernie McCoy was a big spark off the bench with 15 points. Freshman JJ Smith tallied 13 points and 8 rebounds. Kris Carius was big in the lane with 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots.
The win extends the OCU NCCAA Division II winning streak to 38 games. OCU has now won five straight Mid-East Region championships. OCU also finishes with a 12-0 record in regional play, the 3rd straight season that Ohio Christian has ran the table for a perfect region record.
The Trailblazers will now await word on the official NCCAA National Tournament seeding. The defending champions are hoping to receive the #1 seed in the tournament but will receive final confirmation following the NCCAA conference call on Selection Sunday.