MEN’S BASKETBALL: No. 17 Odessa College reaches Region V title game after beating Howard College

WOLFFORTH The Odessa College men’s basketball team picked a good time to put together one its best defensive performances of the season.

The No. 17 Wranglers held Howard College to just a single field goal in the first half to open an insurmountable lead on the way to a 75-57 victory in the Region V semifinals Friday at the Tiger Pit on the campus of Frenship High School.

OC (26-5) never trailed in the game and used that lockdown defense to open a 31-13 lead by halftime.

“That’s what we’re about,” OC head coach Tra Arnold said about the defense. “We defended and rebounded. When you’re not shooting the ball well like we were early, you’re still right there because you’re defending.”

The Hawks (20-12) finally started hitting some shots in the second half, but the Wranglers were able to find a way to snuff out any run Howard tried to start.

Odessa College didn’t get off to the best start offensive either, holding an 8-2 lead after eight minutes, but the defense kept Howard College without a field goal for just over 18 minutes and limited the Hawks to 1-of-19 shooting for the half.

“We’ve got to play defense the whole game,” OC guard Tyshon Rogers said. “The defense will make our offense play better. It’s pretty hard to stay in when the shots aren’t falling, but we’ve just got to stay with it.”

Rogers was the spark that eventually jump started the OC offense in the first half. The sophomore from Waterbury, Conn., broke down the Hawks’ zone defense and either got to rim or opened up space for the outside shooters.

“At first, we weren’t attacking the gaps,” Rogers said. “Coach called a timeout and told us we needed to attack the gaps.”

The Wranglers’ bench again stepped up, finishing with 52 points. Sammy Barnes-Thompkins scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half before fouling out. Keandre Cook backed up a solid game against Collin County Community College with a perfect shooting night, going 5 of 5 from the field and hitting both free throws to add another 14 points.

“We don’t have a second unit. It’s everybody. We’re all a team,” Arnold said. “That’s what’s got us to this point right now.”

Marlon Hunter bounced back from an off night in the quarterfinals to add another 11 points on 5 of 9 shooting.

Howard College came into the game off of an upset of No. 7 McLennan Community College in the quarterfinals. The Hawks had three players play the full 40 minutes in the win though, while another sat for just seven seconds. That quartet of Dante Scott, Srdjan Budimir, Nic Thomas and KJ Riley all played over 37 minutes against the Wranglers as the OC depth was able to wear down the Hawks.

“I thought they fought and hung around in the second half,” Arnold said.

Thomas led Howard with 18 points, while Scott added another 15 points and Jake Hutchins finished with 14 points off the bench in the loss.

The Wranglers will now turn their sights to the Region V title game today at 4:30 p.m., where they’ll face the winner of top-ranked South Plains College and Western Texas College.

>> Follow Joshua Perry on Twitter @OAjperrysuu