By BEN JOHNSON
Tosha Tyler has been around college basketball for four years. Randy Gipson’s tenure has been much longer than that.
Gipson is in his 14th season as Northeastern State’s women’s basketball coach. Before that, he spent 11 years at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. He has seen his fair share of basketball.
But what he saw Saturday in his club’s 46-44 win over Truman was a rarity.
“I can say, for sure, never have I seen a game — or been a part of a game — that got decided by a four-point play in that dramatic of fashion,” Northeastern State coach Randy Gipson said. “Over my career, I’ve seen game-winning and last-second shots, but it was nice to be on the winning side of one of those.”
What he witnessed — along with 836 in attendance at Jack Dobbins Field House — was a miraculous four-point play by Tosha Tyler with 25 seconds left. In the blink of an eye, the RiverHawks went from down three to up one.
“Definitely, the biggest shot of my career — ever,” Tyler said, describing the magnitude of her fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh points against Truman.
In a game where the RiverHawks shot 37.8 percent (17 of 45) from the field, Tyler said there was certainly some anxious moments while staring down a three-point deficit and the clock winding down.
“I felt panicked,” Tyler said. “But we just kept encouraging each other. We’re all best friends, so we just kind of had fun with it and keep playing the game we love.”
After Truman’s Allie Norton made two free throws with 33 seconds left, NSU went down the floor and Fontana Tate found Tyler in the right corner. From there, the rest is history.
“(Truman’s Megan Sharpe) barely fouled me and got a piece of my left hand,” Tyler said, rehashing the game-changing situation, which culminated with the go-ahead free throw. “(The ball) sailed right through, and I turned around and started cheering with (former teammate) Jasmine Wright, who was standing behind me [in the crowd]. It was just a great feeling.”
Tyler’s basket is just one example of how NSU’s three seniors — Taylor Lewis, Tyler and Sarah Green — have taken control of the RiverHawks during the current campaign.
“All three of our seniors have done a great job of leading this team, I think, both emotionally and the productivity on the floor,” Gipson said. “...Taylor Lewis made a dramatic last-second shot at UCO, and Tosha did it on Saturday. And Sarah Green has just been very steady, as she has been most of her career.”
It was Green, in fact, who led NSU against Truman was 11 points and seven rebounds.
That’s been the story for the RiverHawks all year long: the seniors coming through in big moments.
Heading into this season, after Wright, Cristy Nitz, Megan Fraley and Kendra Kok all graduated, Tyler knew the scoring role would fall squarely on her shoulders — along with Lewis.
“Me and Taylor have been here the longest, and we know what the program needs to be successful,” said Tyler, who is averaging 11.2 points per game this season. “We’ve been around Coach (Gipson) the longest. We know what he expects from us, and we’re a little more comfortable on the floor than the other girls are. But the other girls are definitely getting there.”
Credit Tyler, Lewis and Green for that, too. The three seniors also took on a mentor’s role during the early portion of the season.
“One thing I think Coach Gipson is good at is recruiting players with good basketball IQ,” Tyler said. “Those girls get out here and see what they need to do, and when we tell them what to do, they catch on really fast.”
Up next for Tyler and the RiverHawks is a home game against Missouri Southern tonight at Jack Dobbins Field House. The RiverHawks (16-6 overall) are sitting in third place all alone in the MIAA standings with a 11-3 mark.
The harsh reality for NSU is a loss to the Lions all but negates a dramatic, momentum-building victory over Truman only a few days ago.
“It’s too bad, but it’s the reality,” Gipson said. “All through this league race, we’ve had some good wins and you enjoy it for a little bit. But you have to get focused on the next game because every team you play is capable of upsetting you. If you don’t keep taking care of business, then it will diminish the gains you’ve made. We have to be mature enough to look ahead; put that one behind us and move ahead to the next one.”
Missouri Southern at Northeastern State
When: Women at 5:30 p.m. and men at 7:30.
Where: Jack Dobbins Field House.
Women: NSU (16-6, 11-3); Mo. Southern (11-10, 5-8).
Men: NSU (16-6, 9-5); Mo. Southern (11-10, 6-7).