OAKLAND CITY -- Oakland City University basketball men aren’t as new as all-freshmen Southeastern Baptist. But a freshman in his college postseason debut and a sophomore in his first postseason start played key roles in Thursday night’s 110-56 win over the Laurel, Miss., team in the last first-round game in the eighth annual Christian College National Invitational Tournament in Johnson Center.
Neither North Posey-bred freshman point-guard Jacob Sanford nor Albion, Ill.-bred sophomore Nathaniel Schmittler led the team in scoring or rebounding, Evansville Reitz-bred 6-foot-5 senior Logan Worthington producing game-highs of 21 points and 13 rebounds and South Knox-bred 6-6 senior Andrew Scott hitting 19 points. But the 5-11 Sanford and the 6-7 Schmittler played impacted a record-setting win that set up last evening’s semifinal vs. Campbellsville (Ky.)-Somerset, a 106-93 Thursday winner over Kissimmee, Fla.-based Johnson.
The Mighty Oaks’ 17th straight win, since a December 30 loss at Alabama-Huntsville, topped the previous school record of 16 straight by last season’s CCNIT runners-up. They thus took a 22-5 record vs. Somerset, which tipped off Friday with a 7-18 log including a 102-76 December 8 loss in Johnson Center.
OCU’s 110 points weren’t its season-high because the team scored 126 vs. Warren Wilson January 19 and 112 vs. Wright State-Lake February 10.
Scott’s 19 points raised his second-in-school-history career total to 2,148.
Worthington’s 21 raised his career total to 1,478, seventh all-time as he passed the 1,458 by Wood Memorial-bred 1994 grad Greg Wilkinson and the 1,462 by 2007 grad Chad Miller. Worthington’s 13 rebounds pushed his career number to 779, third all-time as he passed the 769 by 2010 grad Nate Schumacher.
Now back to Sanford, who scored 16 Thursday points including 8-for-8 free throwing while in the point-guard role that required handling Southeastern Baptist’s full-court pressure; and Schmittler, who shot 5-for-5 afield and also took seven rebounds as OCU controlled the boards 57-34 against a team that arrived with a 14-13 record.
All five OCU starters scored double-figures as Pike Central-bred 6-7 junior Tyler Toopes hit for 10.
“Ever since our third or fourth game in November, Jacob has played really well,” Coach Mike Sandifar said. “He has become a really good small college player -- the quality minutes he’s giving us probably the best by any freshman since Greg Wilkinson.
“Nathaniel has given us a lot of games like the one he played tonight. He‘s consistent and knows what to do with the ball,” the coach said.
“No, I wasn’t nervous at all. I just played my game and trusted my teammates the same way they trust me,” the 19-year-old Sanford said. “Despite starting slowly, we kept our confidence because we knew we’d start hitting shots.
“Winning this national championship would be special to me, especially since I never experienced a sectional championship in high school,” the Wadesville resident said.
“I subbed for a few minutes in a couple CCNIT games last year when guys got in foul trouble, but making tonight’s start didn’t get me uptight. The regular season gave me experience and I just played like in every other game,” the 21-year-old Schmittler said. “We worked the ball like we do all the time.
“Winning this tournament would mean the world to me.”
Trailing 9-5 against a team they beat 101-82 and 99-63 on successive January days, the Mighty Oaks went on a 13-0 run, taking the lead on Worthington’s nine-foot basket with little over six minutes gone.
Sanford’s four free throws started a 16-0 run to 41-15 command as they held the Chargers without a point for 5 minutes, 55 seconds and without a basket for 6:36 en route to a 55-25 halftime lead which became 79-38 and allowed Sandifar to play subs the last 11 minutes.
They got points and at least one rebound from all six subs -- Bryant Nalley, Austin Robertson, Kase Robinson, Devon Mills, J.D. Hoover and baseball player Austin Ladd.
Six-one guard Matias Pruitt led the Chargers with nine points to eight each for 6-6 Jalen Lett and 6-1 sub Garin Arabie.
“Oakland City played really well, especially defensively. We didn’t hit shots or handle adversity very well,” said, Southeastern Baptist Coach Brad Phillips, whose Chargers are in their first basketball season since the mid-1980s.
Partly due to the Chargers’ three technical fouls, the Mighty Oaks shot 45 free throws and made 36. Those numbers are second in school history, topped only by their 48 tries and 41 makes vs. Rose-Hulman in 1983-84.