Forty-eight hours after almost upsetting the conference leader, the Rogers State Hillcats had their hands full with the conference tailender.
The Hillcats finally pulled away from John Brown late in the second half Monday night and emerged with a 69-56 victory in their final home game of their first season of intercollegiate basketball.
And, for the fifth time this season, the RSU men and women won both ends of a doubleheader on the floor of the Claremore Expo.
The RSU women stared down a late challenge from John Brown and ended a five-game losing streak with a 55-46 win.
A crowd of 1,089 — the third straight over the 1,000 mark — was on hand to watch the Hillcats wrap up a 14-game home schedule. Both teams will hit the road for the final four games of their Sooner Athletic Conference schedule.
Before the men’s game, RSU saluted the lone senior on either team, Bryson Krueger. The transfer from Arizona State, playing his last game in the Expo, was presented a framed jersey No. 12 by coach Wren Baker and his staff.
It was fitting that on Senior Night Krueger would step up when needed.
And he was needed in a three-minute stretch late in the second half.
The pesky Golden Eagles had pulled within 50-47 at 9:07 on back-to-back baskets.
The 6-7 Krueger answered with nine straight points, in a three-minute tear.
He sandwiched a pair of treys around a JBU basket, and threw in a 2-pointer and a free throw at 5:44 to push the lead to 59-47.
That was the boost the Hillcats needed to close out the Golden Eagles.
After Krueger’s miss of his second free throw, Roderick Rodgers muscled his way in for the rebound and the put-back, and Aldric Reynolds contributed a free throw at 4:52 to inflate the Hillcats’ largest lead to that point to 64-51.
Krueger’s flurry was the third such individual outburst by the Hillcats.
They had led by nine late in the first half, only to find themselves tied at 27 at 4:28. Baskets by Eric Young and James Coats gave the Hillcats a 32-27 halftime advantage.
Young continued with the hot hand to open the second half. He scored the Hillcats’ first six points, in a span of 90 seconds, around a trey by JBU, and opened a seven-point lead.
He launched that mini-run with a thunderous dunk on a fast break.
But like with most of RSU’s point sprees, John Brown always had an answer.
When John Brown cut an eight-point deficit in half at 12:56, it was Sylvester Spicer’s turn to apply the brakes.
Spicer scored seven straight RSU points, over three minutes, and reopened a seven-point gap. He hit a traditional three-point play, scored on a follow shot, and dropped in a basket from 14 feet.
Still, the Golden Eagles would not go away. They hit back-to-back treys and set the stage for Krueger to turn the game around.
It was a struggle for RSU, which dropped a one-point decision to No. 11-ranked, SAC co-leader Southern Nazarene Saturday night. John Brown had lost seven straight before Monday night and is in the basement of the SAC.
RSU turned up the defensive pressure when it was necessary, forcing the Golden Eagles into 25 turnovers. Rodgers made six steals by himself.
And, while the Golden Eagles hit 50 percent of their field-goal attempts in the opening half, they were hampered by the Hillcats’ defense in the second half, shooting only 33 percent (8 of 24).
Rodgers was one of Hillcats to score nine or more, and he peaked at 16, hitting four of six 3-pointers. Krueger scored 13, and James Coats counted 14, hitting four of eight 3-pointers.
Spicer hit four of five shots and finished with nine points, the same as Young. Reynolds contributed six assists.
Finishing their home schedule with a 9-4 record, the Hillcats stand at 11-7 in the conference, a half-game ahead of idle Oklahoma Baptist. RSU is 16-8 overall, also owning a 72-66 comeback victory at John Brown in December.
John Brown is 9-17 and 2-16.
The Hillcats relied on their defense to shut down John Brown, especially in the second half.
RSU held a 29-26 lead at halftime, but fell behind in the first four minutes of the second half.
But John Brown could not sustain the momentum. The Hillcats limited John Brown to 7 of 28 shooting — 25 percent — for the half. For the game, John Brown shot 32 percent — 16 of 50.
On numerous occasions, the Golden Eagles had difficulty even getting a shot off against the Hillcat defense. The shot clock expired a number of times on the Golden Eagles’ offense.
And, the Hillcats forced JBU into 23 turnovers, taking 15 of those on direct steals. Yoda Woods, the 6-foot post player, collected five of those steals.
RSU went on an 11-3 streak, bolstered by its defense, to wipe out the lone JBU of the second half. It was a team run.
After falling behind, 35-33, at 16:11, the Hillcats quickly turned the tables. Six Hillcats combined to score the 11 points, jumpstarted by Hunter Peterson’s 3-pointer.
By the time the lead crested at 44-38, at 9:40, the Hillcats were in control.
Twice the Golden Eagles pulled within four, but twice the Hillcats had an answer.
The last time, Azzie Knox scored on a pass from Hayley KnifeChief to push RSU in front, 52-46, with 2:22 left. Fifty-four seconds later, Knox took a pass from Peterson and gave the Hillcats an eight-point lead — and the insurance to seal the victory.
Knox finished with 14 points and nine rebounds.
John Brown outrebounded the Hillcats, 37-29, but no one was close to Knox in numbers — either point production or rebounding.
KnifeChief tossed in three 3-pointers, all in the first half, and finished with 11 points. She also registered four assists.
The Hillcats, 12-14 and 8-10 in the SAC, won its second game over JBU, repeating a 68-65 verdict from December.
John Brown dropped its eighth straight and stands at 7-19 and 2-16.
RSU 55, JOHN BROWN 46
John Brown 26 20 — 46
Rogers State 29 26 — 55
John Brown — Harrison 12, Taylor 10, Cully 5, Shivers 5, Ortiz 4, Mangels 3, Vogts 3, Edwards 3, Glossett 1.
Rogers State — Knox 14, KnifeChief 11, Peterson 9, Woods 6, Parker 4, Rice 4, Jasper 4, Muller 2, Taylor 1.
RSU 69, JOHN BROWN 56
John Brown 27 29 — 56
Rogers State 32 37 — 69
John Brown — Jackson 12, Brown 12, McGriff 9, Allen 9, Page 6, Mikutis 6, Williams 2.
Rogers State — Rodgers 16, Coats 14, Krueger 13, Spicer 9, Young 9, Reynolds 6, Donlon 2.