Junior guard Dionte Christmas held his head down and tugged on his shorts with eight seconds left in the men’s basketball team’s home opener against Ohio Thursday.
He had just fouled the Bobcats’ Bubba Walther on a three-point try, giving Walther the opportunity to give the Bobcats the lead if he made all three free throws.
“I had my head down when I committed that foul,” Christmas said. “My teammates just kept telling me ‘Keep your head up’ and my coach came to me and said ‘Once we make this shot right here, everybody’s going to forget all about that.'”
Coaches know best.
Senior guard Chris Clark gave Christmas a gift – a very nice one at that.
All Clark did was calmly sink a triple from the left wing with 1.9 seconds left in the game and give the Owls a rousing 90-88 victory at the Liacouras Center.
“Yeah, that definitely was the biggest shot of my life,” Clark said. “Mostly because we needed the win, man. We needed that win big.”
The Owls (3-4) were obviously in a giving mood because after the game Clark’s co-captain, senior guard Mark Tyndale, playfully kissed Clark on the top of the head before praising the game’s hero.
“Honestly, I was looking for Dionte Christmas, but Christmas was covered and I just saw Chris wide open, because three people ran to me,” Tyndale said. “Chris did a good job of getting open and I just looked at the replay and it seemed like everybody on the bench knew that it was going in before it went through the net. It was a great shot by Chris. He stepped up.”
The Bobcats’ (2-2) Leon Williams also gave the Owls all they could handle in the post.
The 6-foot-8 Williams dominated the paint against the Owls, scoring a career-high 31 points and claiming eight rebounds. Williams did his fair share of damage from the free throw line, hitting 13 of 15 attempts.
Coach Fran Dunphy said Williams was a terror in the post for the Owls.
“We obviously didn’t do a very good job on Williams,” Dunphy said.
But the Owls’ high scoring duo made sure Williams wasn’t the only player doing damage in the game.
Tyndale, who sped up the court and fed Clark his game-winning three, had a double-double, with 26 points and 10 rebounds, including a game-high five offensive boards.
Christmas, who found his shooting touch early and often, dazzled with a game-high 29 points. He was hot from behind the arc, touching the bottom of the net on 7 of 10 three-point tries.
Tyndale and Christmas accounted for 30 of the Owls’ 38 points in the first half, as the Owls trailed, 42-38, at intermission.
But they didn’t have to do it alone.
Forward Lavoy Allen also reached double figures, scoring 10 points. The freshman showed deft passing ability, tallying three assists. Allen also swatted two shots.
Ryan Brooks, who struggled mightily in the first half by misfiring on all three of his three-pointers and committing two turnovers, turned it on in the second half.
He swished all three of his treys, including back-to-back threes early in the period to keep the Owls in the game.
Sophomore guard Luis Guzman was solid at the point, dishing four assists without a turnover in 22 minutes of play. He also scored five points.
But the big man at the end of the night stands under six feet. Yet, Christmas knows his smaller teammate hit the biggest shot of the night.
“[I love him] about as much as I love my father,” Christmas said. “That was a big shot, man.”
Terrance McNeil can be reached at email@example.com.