Once Julius Jackson gets moves toward the basket, he’s very difficult to stop.
The Hornet senior proved that once more on Thursday, scoring 26 points, including a 13-for-13 performance at the free-throw line — all while battling illness.
“When offense gets stagnant for us, we always have ‘the Juice,’” ESU head coach Craig Doty said of Jackson. “He’s been pretty effective. Over his last six games you’re looking at 22 points, 22, 30, 22, 21 and now 26. He does a lot of good things for us offensively.”
Jackson has largely been one of the first Hornets off the bench and Thursday was no different. Jackson wasn’t on the court as Emporia State opened the game with a 12-2 lead. In the opening barrage, ESU made three of its first four 3-point tries as Hassan Thomas, Kam Rowan and Kooper Glick all made treys in the first three-and-a-half minutes.
When the Bronchos finally gained some ground, climbing back to within six, Jackson made good with three free throws on a fouled 3-point attempt. Almost a minute later, on the Hornets next trip up the floor, he just made the bucket from downtown. Glick added another at the 11:45 mark and the ESU lead stretched to 13.
“We just played together, we made sure to keep moving the ball (so) everybody got touches (and we could find) the best shot for the whole team, not just one player,” Jackson said.
Even after Thomas made a layup with 2:38 left in the first half to stretch the lead to 16, UCO battled back to get a 3-pointer seconds before the buzzer to cut its deficit to single digits at 34-25.
“We start games well, our group usually does, whether we’re at home or on the road,” Doty said. “The lull usually comes at some point in that first half — it came later in this one. Often times it’s around the nine to 11-minute mark. Tonight it was with about four minutes to go. We’d held our opponent to only 15 points in the first half, then they went on a little run to end the half.
“Overall, I thought we played 15, 16 minutes of really good basketball in the first half. We only played five-to-seven minutes of good basketball in the second half, at least from a comprehensive standpoint.”
“We still got big stops at big times and our guys, they found a way.”
In spite of the offense sputtering at times, ESU kept its distance most of the way. The margin fluctuated between 13 and five points entering the last two minutes of the half, before the Bronchos got a 6-0 run to cut it down to three at 63-60.
“We’ve been through this many times,” Jackson said. “Especially (in) the last five games. I feel like we’re really building on finishing games and we’re coming together as a group to figure out ways to finish games.”
The Hornets missed on an opportunity to extend their lead with 40 seconds remaining as a last-ditch heave was offline to trigger a shot-clock violation. Glick still gave his team a respite, however, with a steal at midcourt to retain possession.
ESU went 3-for-4 at the free throw line in the final 30 seconds, while UCO got a transition 3-pointer right before the buzzer to take the game to its final.
Ultimately, Glick and Doty both spoke of recent games in which the team had played well and lost. Thursday, in the opinion of both, the Hornets didn’t play well, but ultimately came away with the victory.
“It means a lot,” Glick said. “Now we control our destiny even more.”
With five games remaining, ESU is in a four-way tie for ninth in the MIAA. Only the top-10 advance to the conference’s postseason tournament.
“We didn’t play very well tonight, but we won it,” Doty said. “We’re going to celebrate it ... by just going home and feeling good about finding a way to get the job done.”
UCO 25 38 — 63
ESU 34 32 — 66
Central Oklahoma (10-13, 3-11): Bell 3-6 3-4 11, Hemphill 2-3 3-4 7, Avery 6-13 5-8 17, Holliday 4-7 0-0 11, Johnson 4-8 2-2 11, London 0-4 0-0 0, Williams 2-7 0-0 6.
Emporia State (10-13, 5-9): Thomas 4-8 1-3 10, McGee 0-0 1-2 1, K. Glick 6-15 3-3 17, Hluchoweckyj 2-5 0-0 5, Rowan 3-8 0-2 7, Jackson 5-10 13-13 26, Fort 0-2 0-0 0, Shell 0-0 0-0 0, S. Glick 0-0 0-0 0.
Three-pointers: UCO (8-23): Bell 2-4, Holliday 3-6, Johnson 1-3, London 0-4, Williams 2-6; ESU (8-19): Thomas 1-2, K. Glick 2-6, Hluchoweckyj 1-3, Rowan 1-1, Jackson 3-7,.
Rebounds: UCO 31 (Avery 9), ESU 26 (2 with 6); Assists: UCO 13 (Johnson 5), ESU 10 (K. Glick 4).
Fouled Out: None.