By ZACH TUCKER
After finishing the 2011-2012 season with a record of 5-21, the Northeastern State men’s basketball team was anxious to start the 2012-2013 season out with a bang. Monday evening NSU faced the Rangers of Northwestern Oklahoma State University.
Making the trip from Alva, the Rangers arrived with a 0-1 record falling to Rogers State University on Saturday (81-69).
NSU senior forward Jermaine Bransford led the Riverhawks early in the game, scoring nine of the RiverHawks’ first 12 points of the ball game to give Northeastern State a 12-7 lead with 14:32 remaining in the first half.
“I had a big And-1 early that really sparked me to keep scoring,” Bransford said.
The two teams would continue to go back in forth and with 7:24 remaining in the first half the game was tied 25-25. The Riverhawks then went on a run to lead 37-31 with 2:17 on the first-half game clock. NSU senior guard Christian Mack hit a 3-pointer with just six seconds left in the first half to give the Riverhawks a 40-35 lead heading into the locker room at intermission.
Coming out of halftime, Northeastern State made adjustments in the locker room to try to find more rebounds in the paint.
“I made some changes at the half and just tried to be shifty so I didn’t get pinned inside the paint by their big men,” Bransford said.
With 13:29 left in the game, the Riverhawks reached their largest lead of the game, 57-44. The Rangers would fight back and give Northeastern State very little breathing room to finish the game.
At the nine-minute mark, NSU’s lead had fallen to three points, 62-59. NSU senior guard Ethan Anderson made a game-changing 3-point shot with 3:48 remaining to boost the Riverhawk lead to 71-65.
“I made some shots near the end that changed the outcome of the game,” Anderson said.
At the 1:33 mark, the Rangers pulled within two points of Northeastern State, only trailing 73-71. However, NSU senior point guard Bryton Hobbs made three big free throws that gave his team a five-point lead, 78-73, with just 27 seconds remaining in the season opener.
“Coach had a lot of trust in me to help us win the game, so I was comfortable with the ball in my hands and just tried to make a play for my team,” Hobbs said.
Anderson would hit two more free throws for the Riverhawks to give them the 78-73 victory over Northwestern Oklahoma State.
“The first game is always a hard game for any team, at any level,” NSU coach Larry Gibson said, “I like this group of guys and it was the type of win we needed to get to start out the season”.
Anderson led the Riverhawks with 20 points off 7 of 12 shooting, while Hobbs led the team with four assists to go along with his 14 points. Northeastern State outshot the Rangers with a field goal percentage of 48.1 percent compared to 46.9 percent by Northwestern Oklahoma State.
Jonathan Freemyer led the Rangers with 17 points to go along with his team-high nine rebounds.
Next up for the Riverhawks will be Arkansas Tech at 7 p.m. at Jack Dobbins Field House on Thursday. Following that game, the RiverHawks will host Central Bible College on Saturday.