The Oglethorpe men's basketball team jumped out to a big lead early on the visiting Ozarks (Arkansas) Eagles on Friday night and never relinquished the advantage, as they held on through a couple of runs from the visitors and eventually pulled away for a 96-75 win in their opener at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Tournament at Dorough Field House. The victory improved the Stormy Petrels to 6-4 on the season and advanced them to the tournament's championship game Saturday afternoon against Geneva.
The Petrels led 70-65 with eight minutes to go in the contest, but they began the run that would put the game away at that point, slicing through the Ozarks defense for eight consecutive points and taking a 78-65 advantage with 6:30 left on the clock. The Eagles cut it back to a 9-point game with a mini-run over the next two minutes, but the Petrels used a 15-3 run over the final three minutes of the contest to pull away to the eventual 21-point win.
Oglethorpe led 51-40 at the break, but Ozarks came back with a big spurt at the outset of the second half. They outscored the Petrels 10-3 over the opening 4:45 of the period, cutting what had been a 17-point Petrel lead down to just three, 54-51. The home side turned their fortunes back around, though, with a 16-6 stretch over the next five minutes, extending their lead back out to 13 points, 70-57. The Eagles put together another run, scoring seven consecutive points of their own over the next couple minutes to cut the Petrel lead back down to five, 70-65, with eight minutes left.
The Petrels ran out to a huge advantage in the first half. They outscored Ozarks 35-18 over the opening 13 minutes of the contest. They maintained a large lead through the remainder of the first half, but Ozarks was able to slowly whittle the Petrel lead down to 11 at the halftime break.
Junior forward Will Perry had another outstanding game, leading the Petrels with 24 points and 10 rebounds. He converted on 8 of 14 attempts from the field while recording four assists and two steals. Senior guard Chris Lawrence chipped in 17 points on 5 of 11 three-point shooting while passing out four assists. Freshman forward Will Koch got his second consecutive start and made the most of it, scoring 11 points and grabbing seven rebounds. He was a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line and recorded a couple blocks.
As a team, Oglethorpe shot 52 percent from the field overall and 47 percent from 3-point range. They were also outstanding from the free throw line, converting on 86 percent of their attempts. Meanwhile, they held the Eagles to just 44 percent from the field overall and 29 percent from beyond the arc. The Petrels forced just 11 turnovers, but were outstanding in transition, outscoring Ozarks 17-8 off turnovers.
"We had a really good offensive game and shot the ball really well," said Oglethorpe head coach Philip Ponder. "We also had our best free throw shooting game of the year. Offensively, I thought we did great. We took care of the ball and got off to a great start. We struggled a bit on the defensive end at times, but if we can play like that offensively and improve a bit on our defensive performance, we'll have a chance to win every night. Geneva has some good size and can really shoot it, so we're going to have our work cut out for us tomorrow as we go for the tournament championship."
The Petrels will take on the Golden Tornadoes in Saturday's championship game, which will get started at approximately 4 p.m. Geneva beat Manchester, 71-65, in Friday's first game. Manchester and Ozarks will play in the tournament's consolation game Saturday at 2 p.m.
After the tournament, the Petrels will face crosstown rival Emory Tuesday at 8 p.m. in their final non-conference matchup of the regular season. They'll then travel to Conway, Arkansas, and Memphis, Tennessee, for their first SAA trip of the season the following weekend, where they'll take on Hendrix and Rhodes.