The Ecclesia Royals (16-7) traveled to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to face Rhema Bible College (14-9) in a Saturday night matchup. The evening would serve as homecoming night for the Eagles of Rhema. The Royals swept the Eagles in 2014-15.
After jumping out to a 10-4 lead, the Eagles could not hold off a furious come back for the Royals led by the hot shooting hand of freshmen David Gaut Jr who had 11 points in the first half. Free-throws would plague the Royals run which halted at a 9-point advantage going into the break with the Royals on top 40-31.
"I thought we got off to a slow start but when we turned it on, we really picked it up defensively. Holding a team to 31 points in the first half is pretty good, that's right on pace with what we want to do. Our goal is to hold teams in the mid 30's each half. Offensively we struggled to exploit some mismatches, but our defense led to some great possessions."
The Royals came out blazing in the second half as well extending the lead to 14 in the first two minutes. Following an Eagles timeout, Rhema slowly and methodically mounted a quiet comeback. Empty trips to free-throw line would doom the Royals, who shot 11-25 from the free-throw line for the game as they watched their lead evaporate and flip into a 10-point deficit with four minutes remaining. The Royals shoot 68% from the free-throw line on the year.
"It was like the plague out there, we had guys that shoot 80% stepping up and missing two in a row. There's nothing you can really do in that situation, kind of like a baseball player in a hitting slump."
"Sometimes we look like a million bucks and then it's like a switch goes off and we lose all of our confidence and poise. We played really well to get that lead, Rhema is good, and we had a 14 point lead. That takes a good team to go up like that. Then all of the sudden we forget how good we are and stop making the plays that got us there. It's tough for me because I really have so much confidence in our team and sometimes I think I have more confidence in them than they do in themselves."
Of course the Royals would not go down quietly and while they were down 11 with 1:37 remaining the Royals proceeded to knock down 3 three's in a row to cut the lead to 6 with :37 remaining. The Eagles, who shot 55% from the free-throw line themselves proceeded to knock down the ones that counted making the come-back short-lived and insufficient as time expired with the Royals losing 88-82.
The Royals were led in scoring by freshmen Jamarius Graves who had 21 on the night and went 6-6 from the free-throw line. Gaut Jr finished with 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists while junior Austin Burroughs had 14 points and 5 rebounds. As mentioned, the Royals shot 11-25 from the free-throw line while shooting the exact same 11-25 from the three-point line.
"We fought there at the end and with this team, I don't ever count us out. I've seen them do some pretty incredible things late in the game. Davion got in there at the end and led that comeback almost single-handedly scoring 8 points in about 38 seconds. We just need to find a way to close these games."
"I've said all year that we are going to win games just because we are better than everyone wearing the other jerseys. We will win off talent alone because we have a lot of it. But when we face teams just as athletic, just as big, and just as talented, we're going to have to play better as a team possession by possession. That's something I think we've taken for granted this year and we need to improve on."
The Royals will get a week off before facing the Eagles again, this time in Springdale for Senior Day.