JJ Simpson said he and his teammates didn’t even have to say a word.
Earlier in the night, they entered the locker room at halftime, down by three points with their winning streak and perfect conference record in jeopardy — and there, where there’s usually plenty of chatter and pep talk, there was, instead, just a quiet fire.
The Wranglers refocused, reloaded and exploded out of the break to charge their way to a 95-80 win over South Plains College on Monday night in the OC Sports Center.
Odessa College trailed 34-31 at the half, but pulled back, pushed out in front in the final 10 minutes and raced away from there to get to the halfway mark of the WJCAC schedule 8-0, by way of a statement-making win over second-place South Plains.
Simpson pointed to the halftime break as the moment when the eighth-ranked Wranglers locked in. Simpson said the Wranglers filed in, and as head coach Tra Arnold trailed behind for a few moments as part of the usual routine, players sat silent, all focused on what they’d do to turn things around in the second half.
“We didn’t say a word,” Simpson recounted. “Everybody was checking themselves individually.
“We didn’t say anything, but everybody was in sync. Everybody was on one course. We came out and did what we had to.”
Keandre Cook scored a team-high 21 points for Odessa College while Simpson added 19 off the bench in the win.
Both teams battled back and forth early in the second half, but it was Simpson’s basket in transition that put Odessa College out in front for the last time at 64-63. Then, after a defensive rebound and an outlet pass out front, Cook scored, drew a foul on the play and completed the 3-point opportunity — before an offensive foul by South Plains, and then a Simpson drive and score put Odessa College up 69-63 with five minutes left to play.
South Plains chipped its way back into it by scoring the next four points, but Odessa College’s LJ Figueroa knocked down a 3-pointer to end that run, then Odessa College traded a 2-pointer for another 3, which Jahnathan Maxwell nailed from the corner to make it 75-69 with 3:45 left.
South Plains kept pace at that margin for the ensuing moments, making it a five-point deficit at 77-72, but that’s when Odessa College pieced together an 8-2 run to pull away. After a defensive stop, the pass went up to Cook in transition, and though he lost control, tangled with a defender at the basket, Maxwell was trailing to put it back in off the glass to cap that run, and put the dagger in South Plains at 85-74 with just a minute and a half left.
“I was happy with their resilience,” Arnold said. “I told them that in the locker room after the game.
“I told them to just stay the course. You can’t panic. You can’t quit doing what we’re doing. You’ve got to continue the process, and we did. We got the ball moving and we made shots in the second half.”
After scoring just 31 in the first 20 minutes, Odessa College doubled that scoring with 64 second-half points.
“We had to be aggressive and get back to our groove,” Cook said.
With the win, Odessa College moved to 19-2 on the season and 8-0 in the WJCAC, separating itself from second-place South Plains, which fell to 14-6, 6-2.
“Playing against South Plains, it’s always a big game,” Simpson said. “We just treated it like it was our last one.
“We went out there and gave it all we’ve got, and were fortunate enough to come out with the win.”
SOUTH PLAINS COLLEGE (14-6 overall, 6-2 WJCAC)
Deshawn Corprew 8-15 4-4 22, Raymond Doby 7-11 2-3 16, Ben Perez 3-9 2-2 10, Christopher Orlina 1-3 7-8 9, Jordan Brangers 4-9, 0-2, 9, Keith McGee 3-5 1-1 7, Isaiah Maurice 2-8 1-2 6, William Washington III 0-0 1-2 1, Jamir Coleman 0-0 0-0 0, Mykhailo Yogodin 0-0 0-0 0, Marcel Thompson 0-0 0-0 0, Asuquo Efretuei 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-60 18-24 80.
ODESSA COLLEGE (19-2, 8-0)
Keandre Cook 7-9 7-7 21, JJ Simpson 6-7 5-6 19, LJ Figueroa 5-12 4-4 15, Jahnathan Maxwell 5-11 1-2 13, Jermaine Haley 4-9 3-4 11, Kejuan Johnson 3-5 0-0 7, Braxton Shaw 2-6 2-2 7, Kelvin Jones 1-4 0-0 2, Alonzo Walker 0-0 0-0 0, Elvis De La Rosa 0-0 0-0 0, Stevan Jeremic 0-0 0-0 0, Josh Boyd 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 33-68 22-25 95.
Halftime — South Plains College 34, Odessa College 31. 3-Point goals — South Plains College 6-14 (Deshawn Corprew 2-3, Ben Perez 2-5, Isaiah Maurice 1-2, Jordan Brangers 1-3, Keith McGee 0-1), Odessa College 7-18 (JJ Simpson 2-2, Jahnathan Maxwell 2-6, Kejuan Johnson 1-2, LJ Figeuroa 1-2, Braxton Shaw 1-2, Jermaine Haley 0-1, Josh Boyd 0-3). Total fouls — South Plains College 18, Odessa College 13. Fouled out — None. Technical fouls — Odessa College: Kejuan Johnson, Jermaine Haley. Rebounds — South Plains College 33 (Raymond Doby 11), Odessa College 36 (Kejuan Johnson 9). Assists — South Plains College 11 (Keith McGee 5), Odessa College 19 (Jermaine Haley 6, LJ Figueroa 6).