I had the opportunity to catch four-time Ada News All-Area Boys Player of the Year Dalen Qualls in action for his Northern Oklahoma Jets when they battled Murray State College Monday night at the venerable Beames Fieldhouse in Tishomingo.
Qualls and his Jets (14-6) dropped a 74-66 decision to the host Aggies (8-9), despite trimming a 14-point second- half lead to four with 3:36 to play. Trailing 61-47, Qualls sparked the comeback attempt when he drained a 3-pointer from the top of the circle and converted on a fast-break layup. Two free throws by Northern’s David Lewis got the Jets within 62-59 with 3:11 left and Conner Brooks missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer on Norther’s next trip down the court.
After a timeout with 1:56 left, the Jets forced a MSC miss, but Trai Jordan corralled the rebound (one of many of the offensive variety that repeatedly hurt Northern all night), hit a point-blank shot, was fouled and sank the free throw to covert the momentum-stealing three-point play.
Qualls finished with 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting and sank all five of his free throw attempts, despite being the focal point of the Aggies’ defense. He also had three rebounds, a steal and an assist. Qualls also drew the task of covering Murray State scorer Tim Smallwood, who finished with nine points, well below his average.
“They don’t let him catch it. They run him off the three-line. That’s pretty normal,” said Northern head coach Greg Shamburg.
Qualls is averaging almost 15 points per game as a sophomore and scored a season-high 27 points in an 85-71 home loss to Connors on Jan. 17.
Shamburg has watched his star sophomore continue to get better during his collegiate career.
“He’s improved a lot. He’s learning to run off screens and to defend in the man (to-man). He’s gotten a lot better,” he said. “He’s a great kid. We all know he’s been a great player in high school and has had a good college career. He does whatever you ask him to do on and off the floor. He’s been fun to coach and be around.”
One of Qualls’ most memorable moments as a college athlete came Jan. 14 in Altus, when he converted on a rare four-point play with 2.6 seconds left in the game to give Northern a thrilling 67-66 win over Western Oklahoma.
Qualls said he’s learned a lot since moving to Enid to play for the Jets.
“My (knowledge) of the game is a lot better — just knowing what a good shot is. In high school, I could just go. I have to pick my spots now,” he explained. “But I like being challenged night in and night out. This is fun. It’s the JUCO life. It’s not much ... but you’re always going to remember it.”
What’s next for the former Stratford High School star is unclear.
“He’s had a lot of recruitment. He’s had some Division 1 interest and has had a bunch of small college people in the area too,” Shamburg said. “I don’t know what he will want to do. It depends on who is serious and what he want wants to do — whether he wants to stay closer to home and those kind of things.”
Qualls said he turned down an enticing D-1 offer from Stephen F. Austin last year, but he is still on the Lumberjacks’ radar.
“I would love to play Division 1, but whatever happens, happens,” he said.
It was good to see former Atoka High School and Southeastern scoring machine Crystal Robinson in action against — as the head coach of the Murray State women’s basketball team.
I have been a Robinson fan since she was Public Enemy No. 1 as far as the Byng Lady Pirates were concerned back in the good ol’ days of 6-on-6 basketball. Her one-on-one battles with Byng defensive whiz Janelle Brewer were epic.
And I will never forget the night she went off for a career-best 60 points against the ECU Lady Tigers of Kent Franz during a 1996 battle with the Lady Tigers inside the Kerr Activities Center.
Robinson is in her third year as coach of the Lady Aggies, and she has had some up and downs this season with her nine-player roster consisting of freshmen only.
“There are times we look pretty good and other times we struggle,” she said.
There’s no doubt in this sports writer’s mind that Robinson will be coaching at a higher level sooner than later. She will most certainly land a head-coaching position at the Division II level, and I think she would make someone a great D-1 assistant.
All those rowdy fans
I’m certainly not opposed to fans getting a little rowdy during a collegiate basketball game. But a crowd of Murray State supporters — mostly consisting of the baseball team — went a little over the top when they stood right behind the Northern bench and yelled at the top of their lungs during every second-half timeout.
One could tell coach Shamburg was a bit annoyed by their presence, too.
Like I said, fans should be able to yell and cheer as loud as they please, but they probably shouldn’t have been allowed directly behind the Northern Oklahoma bench.
I overheard one group of college basketball fans describe their scary drive-by shooting experience during their trip to the Murray State campus.
As they were traveling down SH 99 toward Tishomingo, they witnessed a man get out of a vehicle on one side of the highway and start spraying bullets at folks on the other side near the small community of Pontotoc.
I’m calling it a drive-by because when they noticed what was going on, the driver put the pedal to the metal and drove by as fast as possible.