Feb. 9—Ozark Christian College hosted Central Christian College of the Bible on Friday night for an NCCAA basketball doubleheader inside the Multipurpose Building on the campus of OCC in Joplin.
The women started the night with a 96-42 rout of the Saints to improve to 14-3 on the year. That was the Ambassadors' second win over CCCB this season. Ozark is also 9-0 in the Midwest Christian College Conference.
"Coming into this season, I wasn't sure what to expect," OCC head coach Kyle Wicklund said. "But I knew I had a group of girls that were going to fight at all times. Right now, this team is showing their heart on the defensive end."
The men jumped out to a big lead early but let the Saints crawl back a bit before halftime. The second half saw the same result as the Ambassadors' 13-point lead at half ballooned to more than 20 at times, but it was cut back to 10 in the late stages of the game. OCC pulled away once again and claimed a 90-76 victory.
"We just had to get a couple easy buckets and had to get some open looks and we did it," OCC head coach Chris Lahm said.
That win would have made Ozark 13-9 overall but due to an NCCAA violation from one opponent, it earned another win via forfeit to make its record now 14-8. The Ambassadors claimed the second seed in the upcoming MCCC tournament with this win and a 7-2 record.
Ozark was leading 4-0 and then 8-2 and eventually 14-7 in the early parts of the contest. The score got to 14-7 as Andre Johnson made a basket to get him to 6 early points.
The Ambassadors went on a run from there. Monett product Blaine Salsman lined up a deep 3-pointer to make it 17-7. Danny Foster converted to layups to push the advantage to 21-7.
The Saints stopped the 9-0 run with a close-range basket. But then OCC scored 6 in a row on a triple from Johnson and an old-fashioned 3-point play by former College Heights Christian School standout, Curtis Davenport. Davenport made a layup, drew a foul and added a free throw to make it 27-9.
That 18-point advantage was quickly trimmed to 9 at 29-20 and then just 8 at 31-23. But the Ambassadors got it going again and held a 44-31 advantage at the half.
The second half saw OCC take control early and have to fight off some runs by CCCB but ultimately, the Ambassadors maintained a double-digit lead for the final 20 minutes.
"We haven't been doing real well in the start of the second half, but we came out, and ... every coach will tell you the first five minutes of the second half is always big ones, and we got it done," Lahm said. "Unfortunately we let them back into it late."
Johnson led Ozark with 21 points on 8 of 13 shooting. He was joined in double figures by Micah Colburn with 16 points (6 of 11), Foster with 15 (6 of 13) and Salsman with 12 (5 of 6).
Colburn also dished out nine assists to lead the team while Foster collected a team-high nine rebounds.
The lone senior on the team, Kaimana Baker, was recognized at half court before the men's game tipped off. Baker got eight minutes of play time tonight and made the most of it with 5 points and making 2 of 4 shot attempts.
CCCB was led by Quincy James Jr.'s game-high 29 points. Trey Palmer added 14 and got off to a fast start, scoring most of his points in the first half. Sonny Amabile scored 10.
It was all OCC from start to finish in this one as it grabbed a 24-6 lead after the first quarter and stretched it out to 57-16 by halftime.
The Ambassadors got five players in double figures as sophomore Reagan Etzel led the way with 23. Former standout at Golden City High School, Kyndall Scott contributed 20. Others in double figures were Dina Marchound (18), Emmy Colin (16) and Allaina Spencer (11).
Scott has came along to be a key factor for the Ambassadors this year.
"We were real excited when she decided to sign with us," Wicklund said. "It took her a little bit to get out of her shell and be confident. But she's playing well for us. She does a really, really good job at attacking the rim. There's not very many people that can keep her in front and then she can shoot it."
Colin led the team with seven rebounds while Etzel handed out six dimes for a team-high.
The men still have three games remaining as they will host Dallas Christian College on Saturday at 3 p.m. before heading out on the road for its last two games at Barclay College on Friday, Feb. 16, and at Manhattan Christian College on Saturday, Feb. 17.
OCC looks to hone in on some things in the final week of the regular season before entering postseason play.
"Just to stay at our peak and not have fallbacks," Lahm said. "We lost Joel Pugh (broken hand). That's a tough one to swallow, but the guys have stepped up.
"I can't say enough about Blaine Salsman. That's his third straight double-figure game. Every time we put him back in he seemed to hit a big shot or made the right decision."
Salsman has been starting for about three weeks since Pugh went down with his injury.
Lahm says his team has to continue to defend well as that leads to the best offense the group has. He admitted he's comfortable with his team's scoring ability but rebounding well and getting in transition after playing solid defense is when the team is at its peak.
The women host Dallas Christian at 1 p.m. Saturday and then have just one game left after that, on Feb. 16 at Barclay College.
OCC's guards like Colin and Etzel have been another strong point in 2024 like in the past few years.
"I challenged the guards at the beginning of the year that they were going to have to bring it at all times and they couldn't take a break," Wicklund said.
It isn't just scoring the ball, Wicklund says the guards are providing necessary defensive pressure, leading the team vocally and setting the tone.
"This team has been a lot of fun. Our guards have stepped up big for us," he added.
That defense will remain the focus for OCC as postseason play approaches.