On a cold and raw Thursday, when snow fell virtually all day in Claremore, the Rogers State Hillcats were hot and smooth while raining down a shower of 3-pointers.
The Hillcats’ tropical shooting touch inside no doubt melted the wintry precipitation outside.
For sure, it melted the Saint Gregory’s Cavaliers.
Zeroing in on 11 of 24 shots from beyond the 3-point arc — a nice and efficient 46 percent clip — the Hillcats burned the Cavaliers, 71-56, in a Sooner Athletic Conference basketball game witnessed by 758 Claremore Expo visitors who braved the bleak and icy conditions.
Five Hillcats lit up the scoring lamp with double-figure efforts, and the biggest Hillcat of them all, 6-9 Abram Donlon, darn near pulled down every rebound in the house.
The junior from Broken Arrow and the University of Texas-San Antonio bagged up 16 rebounds — the most by a Hillcat this season. And 12 of those rebounds came off the defensive boards.
Combining Donlon’s extraordinary rebounding with impressive team scoring, the Hillcats chalked up their second straight home victory.
It was similar to their last outing, an 88-52 victory over Mid-America Christian on Saturday.
In that game, Donlon led all rebounders with 10, and the Hillcats hit a season-high 13 treys with 52-percent accuracy.
With Thursday’s finish, the Hillcats were able to post back-to-back wins for the first time since November, when they started out 5-0.
They accomplished it with a pair of second-half pushes that revealed their dogged determination.
The Hillcats, on top, 38-30, at intermission, ran off nine straight points to open a 17-point lead.
Then, they pushed the lead to 21 with another run. In a span of 2:20, the Hillcats outscored Saint Gregory’s, 11-2, and found themselves in control, 60-39, with 9:46 remaining.
Reserve Chris Francis punctuated that last outbreak with two baskets — five points — in 24 seconds, around a Cavalier turnover — forced by Francis.
“Chris Francis played a whale of a game, offensively and defensively,” Hillcat coach Wren Baker said.
The 6-2 freshman from Vinita connected on four of eight shots from long range, and picked off three Cavalier possessions.
Aldric Reynolds, who also recorded three steals and five assists, hit three of five treys and finished with 15 points, tying Eric Young. Young and Bryson Krueger, who had 10 points, each hit two of three from beyond the arc.
Sylvester Spicer came off the bench with 13 points and nine rebounds.
“We have a bunch of players — I don’t know how many — who have led us in scoring throughout the season,” Baker said. “We’ve got seven or eight guys that can give you double figures on any given night.
“That makes you hard to scout.”
Baker rotated players in and out of the game with a deft hand. Seven Hillcats saw playing time that ranged from 21 minutes to 29 minutes.
And that lineup did not include 6-5 junior Roderick Rodgers, called by Baker “arguably our best overall player.”
Rodgers was sitting out his third, and final, game as a result of a suspension levied by Baker following the Jan. 19 home game loss to Northwestern State.
Rodgers will be eligible to return to the lineup when nationally ranked Oklahoma Baptist comes in to the Expo on Saturday night.
But the Hillcats have played impressively the last two games in Rodgers’ absence.
As a team, they handed out 16 assists Thursday night, and outrebounded the Cavaliers, 40-28.
The Hillcats also downed 14 of 18 free throws — Spicer was 7 of 11.
About the only area in which the Hillcats did not excel was defending 6-4 Tulsa senior Patrick Jones. He didn’t even start, but he finished with 28 points. He tossed in shots on the run, on the rebound and over the tops of defenders.
He hit 12 of 18 shots from the field, and, despite not starting, Jones played 32 minutes, the most by any Cavalier or Hillcat.
No other Cavalier scored more than seven points.
The Hillcats rushed out to a 17-9 lead in the first nine minutes, but Jones triggered a Cavalier charge that wrested the lead and even opened a four-point spread over the next five minutes.
Krueger tossed in a pair of baskets to regain the Hillcat momentum that led the halftime advantage.
Pushing the eight-point lead to double figures and keeping the motor running pleased Baker.
“That’s huge, psychologically,” he said. “When you push it from 15 to 20. Then you push it to 25. That’s huge.”
And, the Hillcats have won two in a row using that domination.
Next up is the winningest team in the conference, the 15-4 OBU Bison, on Saturday night.
RSU 71, SAINT GREGORY’S 56
Saint Gregory’s 30 26 — 56
Rogers State 38 33 — 71
Saint Gregory’s — Jones 28, Lulko 7, Wilson 6, Holmes 5, Olanrewaju 4, Stuart 2, Washington 2, Mansky 2.
Rogers State — Reynolds 15, Young 15, Spicer 13, Francis 12, Krueger 10, Donlon 4, Coats 2.