Osborne’s three-point barrage helps beat Cardinals
After senior Kevin Jones’ rousing singing version of the National Anthem was appropriately given long and loud applause, the most deafening ovation in Shepherd’s 75-71 conference win over Wheeling Jesuit was saved for senior Brantley Osborne’s seventh three-pointer of the first half.
Osborne, who would finish his Senior Night’s work with 31 points, went 7-for-8 from long range in scoring 23 points in the opening half.
Shepherd, which snapped the Cardinals’ eight-game winning streak, made its intentions known early when it assumed leads of 8-0 and 11-2. The Rams needed their early-game excellence, especially when the Cardinals went on a 14-0 splurge of points in the last half to actually gain a short-lived four-point lead themselves.
So impressive were the Rams and outside marksman Osborne that Shepherd had a 44-31 lead by halftime . . . and had committed only one turnover.
As soon as the second half went forward, Wheeling Jesuit and its all-Ohio starting lineup made quick inroads into what would become an eroding Shepherd advantage.
Osborne was kept from even attempting many shots while the ever-charging Cardinals quietly challenged every point of the Shepherd lead.
Even though both teams tried the patience of their opponent with fullcourt presses, the game settled into one where the decision would come from halfcourt scoring.
It was Wheeling Jesuit which had the longer list of high-percentage shots. But it was Shepherd which made its free throws as the Cardinals were severely troubled with a 7-for-13 showing from the foul line.
Neither side had many offensive rebounds, making Shepherd’s Morgan McDonald’s 10 rebounds and 14 points loom large in the outcome.
After the Cardinals had erased all of Shepherd’s lead and went in front, 66-62, Osborne’s three-pointer and crucial inside points from Naim Muhammad and Jones had the Rams back in front at 70-68 with barely over two minutes remaining.
Wheeling Jesuit led again at 71-70, but the Rams’ Austin Cunningham (who had accomplished little with his five points and 2-for-9 shooting at the time) managed the game’s final five points.
With what appeared to be the game’s last possession, the Cardinals were trailing by two points. But an unforced turnover with 2.9 seconds left cost them possession — and the game.
Shepherd’s early-game prowess and Osborne’s record-tying, nine long range field goals had been just enough.
The suffocating Mountain East Conference standings found the Rams in a three-way tie for second place behind conference kingpin West Liberty. The second-place teams and the seventh-place Cardinals were separated by only a game and a half in the closely bunched standings.
The 17 wins Shepherd had gotten in the 2013-14 season were the most by any Rams’ team in the past 10 seasons.
And yet the Rams could fall all the way to seventh place if they find a pot-holed road in remaining games at Virginia-Wise and Concord before playing a final regular season game at the Butcher Center on Feb. 26 against challenging West Virginia Wesleyan.
A 22nd and last conference game is at Fairmont, a team that staged a last-minutes rally to beat Shepherd earlier. The Falcons defeated nationally-prominent West Liberty this past Saturday.
Jones had made the large crowd of nearly 1,000 full with appreciation as his singing voice sent the National Anthem booming through the rafters of the Butcher Center.
And then Osborne had given the onlookers a bulls-eye shooting exhibition from long range. And Shepherd had won by an eyelash in a game it had to have in a feverish dash to the season’s finish line.