OXFORD -- The Oxford College men's basketball team knew the cards were stacked against them in Saturday's game against Gordon College at Williams Gymnasium.
The Highlanders are one of the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I members and their roster is stacked with five players who stand 6-foot-5 or taller. In contrast, Oxford is a Division III school whose tallest player is 6-5 freshman center Brandon Woodburn.
For more than half the game Saturday, the Eagles gave Gordon all they could handle, but in the final minutes, the Highlanders' height and poise proved to be the difference as they defeated Oxford 69-51.
"They're a very talented team, and in the second half they looked to go inside and take advantage of their height, and they did," said Oxford coach Roderick Stubbs, whose team fell to 15-8 on the season. "We still competed, but there was a time in the second half when our shots wouldn't fall and they were playing better defense. When they were able to extend their lead, we couldn't cut into it."
Oxford and Gordon traded the lead in the early going, but a pair of three-point plays five minutes into the game put the Highlanders on top 18-11 before the Eagles went on a 9-0 run to go up 20-18 with nine minutes left in the half.
From that point on, the first half was a back-and-forth battle and in the last four minutes Oxford outpaced Gordon to take a 30-28 lead at halftime.
"The first half was one of the best halves we've played all year," said Stubbs. "We didn't turn the ball over a lot against their defensive pressure, so we were able to get some decent shots off in the first half. We were able to convert and get some easy baskets off their turnovers."
The second half turned out to be a different story, however, as Gordon went on an early 6-0 run to retake the lead at 34-30. Oxford's Zachary Lynn hit a jump shot with 12:35 remaining to make the score 37-37, but it was all Gordon from that point on. The Highlanders were more aggressive on defense, blocking several Eagles shot attempts and converting turnovers into easy points.
While Oxford was still hanging around at 51-43 with six minutes remaining, the Highlanders kicked it into high gear, outscoring the Eagles 18-8. Alex Ordu high four free throws and a jump shot and reserves Jason Levick and A.J. Rubin hit jumpers to account for the Eagles' final eight points.
"After we penetrated their first line, they were able to block shots and alter shots and we're more guard-oriented, so we were taking a lot more outside shots and some of them just didn't fall," said Stubbs, whose team returns to conference play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, hosting Middle Georgia Tech.
Ordu led the Eagles with 14 points and was followed by Kevin Tolbert, who had a hot first half with 10 points but managed only one field goal in the final 20 minutes to finish with 12 points. Sam Kim, who did an admirable job on the glass in the face of such large competition, scored eight points and Lynn posted five points.
Gordon (15-7) had four players finish in double figures 6-8 center Reigarvius Williams led the way with 17 points (including a pair of breathtaking slam dunks in the final two minutes), Marquis Barnes added 15 points, Ryan Fleming contributed 12 points and Michael Tankersley registered 10 points.
Although the Eagles were disappointed in defeat, Stubbs said Saturday's outcome shouldn't have a negative effect on Tuesday's meeting with Middle Georgia Tech.
"Tuesday is a big conference game and we were using this game as a building block for that," he said. "They're a Division I team, so we wanted to go out, play hard, have a good attitude and put forth a good effort. I think we did a good job and we'll be confident going into our next conference game with the way we played. We were there until the last six or seven minutes."